With the March 31 deadline looming, the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center has launched weekly group enrollment sessions and added another staff member to meet the demand of Alaskans signing up for health insurance through the online marketplace.
A handful of people filtered into the Midtown health center's laptop-equipped room Tuesday with issues ranging from Medicaid denial to immigration status verification to dropped insurance plans. On-hand certified application counselors walked them through the sometimes-dizzying healthcare.gov. Walk-ins bypassed 1-800 phone calls and online chats.
"We've had some of our busiest weeks in the beginning of February," said Samantha Longacre, certified application counselor. "We're definitely encouraging people to enroll early."
The health center has enrolled nearly 150 Alaskans in health insurance since the muddled marketplace rollout on Oct. 1. More than 3,300 Alaskans signed up for health care by Dec. 28, according to the most recent report released by the Department of Health and Human Services in January.
Glitches on the federally run healthcare.gov have been addressed and now appointments take between 45 minutes and two hours, Longacre said. She has used over-the-phone translators to help people sign up in Spanish, Russian, Albanian and Korean.
"I think a lot of people are aware it exists," she said of the marketplace. "There's definitely still a question of, 'Do I qualify? How do I qualify?' "
Tiffani Gutierrez balanced her 8-week-old baby on her shoulder Tuesday as she typed identification information into the online portal. She recently lost her health insurance after quitting her job as a medical assistant to raise her son, Christopher, who qualifies for Denali KidCare.
Gutierrez said she was told by the state that she didn't qualify for Medicaid.
"It's really nerve-racking as a new parent," she said.
In the end, Gutierrez didn't sign up for health insurance on Tuesday, leaving with instructions on how to get an official Medicaid denial letter.
Renata Ballesteros-Lopez finally barreled through the application with assistance. She estimated she's failed at least 10 times before -- a website glitch stopped her from viewing her subsidy.
The 24-year-old employee at the University of Alaska Anchorage had to delete her application and start over. She'd been checking the box that she is a naturalized citizen. But a disconnect plagues verification.
"They're aware of the issue, they're trying to get it fixed," said Cassandra Maurer, marketing and development coordinator and certified application counselor with the health center.
Ballesteros-Lopez, instead, had to check no and will have to send a copy of her Naturalization Certificate to the health insurance marketplace in Kentucky.
With an annual, pre-tax salary just over $37,000, she found her premiums could range from zero to $136 a month. She said she had to look over the plans and anticipated she'd choose one before Saturday.
"I finally got over the hump," she said.
People must chose a plan by Saturday for their coverage to start March 1. Then the countdown begins until open enrollment closes at the end of March. Those who don't acquire health insurance will face fines.
Some parts of healthcare.gov, like Social Security verification, will be out of service over the weekend from 11 a.m. on Saturday until 1 a.m. Tuesday for maintenance activities, said the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services in a blog post on Monday.
Reach Tegan Hanlon at email@example.com or 257-4589.
-- Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center:
Group enrollment, 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays
Schedule appointments at anhc.org; 907-743-7220
-- United Way of Anchorage:
liveunited.org; 2-1-1 or 800-478-2221
-- Enroll Alaska:
enrollalaska.com; 907-770-5100 or 855-385-5550
-- Health Insurance Marketplace: healthcare.gov or 800-318-2596
-- Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium; anthc.org/aca or 907-729-7777