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Besieged by errors, Enroll Alaska stops using Healthcare.gov for now

Laurel Andrews

Enroll Alaska, an insurance brokerage firm set up to help Alaskans navigate the new world of health care under the Affordable Care Act, has given up on the federal government's website -- at least for now. 

Enroll Alaska is no longer using the Healthcare.gov website due to the “many, many errors within it,” chief operator Tyann Boling said Monday.

Since its Oct. 1 launch date, Healthcare.gov has been plagued with problems. The White House said Friday that the website would be up and running by the end of November. Meanwhile, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services under President Barack Obama, will appear before Congress on Wednesday to defend the roll-out of the health care exchanges.

In Alaska, Enroll Alaska and the nonprofit organizations United Way and Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) have all struggled to help people sign up using the website. United Way said Monday it still had not signed up a single person due to website problems.

Meanwhile, for Enroll Alaska, problems with the website have “had an incredible impact on business,” Boling said. “We had expected to be enrolling 4,000 [people] in October and we’ve enrolled three.”  Now, Enroll Alaska has stopped using the website altogether, citing inaccuracies on it.

The problem? Subsidies for Alaskans are listed as about $100 less than they should be. Enroll Alaska says it first caught the problem about a week ago while manually calculating some subsidies, and “quickly determined there was an error.”

The company went back and double-checked its work, before alerting the U.S. Department of Health and Social Services. Boling said they suspect that the Federal Poverty Level, the measure used to determine federal subsidies, was entered incorrectly by website developers. The Federal Poverty Level is about 25 percent higher in Alaska than it is in the continental US. 

Enroll Alaska is reaching out to the three people they have successfully enrolled to let them know about problems with their subsidies. The good news is that those individuals will receive more money in federal subsidies, Boling said. She added that the company will make up for lost enrollees once the website is up and running. The demand is there, she said, and “we’re confident it’s going to get fixed.”

Enroll Alaska is still taking calls and customers, however. The company calculates federal subsidies manually, and runs through all the data -- just without the website.

The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium has also stopped using healthcare.gov, said Nadine Estes, a certified application counselor with the consortium. “When they get all their ducks in a row, we’ll start,” she said.

Meanwhile, United Way navigators are still using the website, albeit with little success. “It’s sort of haphazard,” navigator Joan Fisher said.  They still haven’t been able to sign anyone up.

Yet despite website problems, education and outreach continues. “People just do not understand this law,” Fisher said. She’s still providing “lots of upfront” information from her office at Providence Medical Center and stays busy fielding questions.

Contact Laurel Andrews at laurel(at)alaskadispatch.com and follow her on Twitter at @Laurel_Andrews

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