Alaskans have until Monday at 8 p.m. to enroll in health insurance through the federal marketplace if they want to be covered starting Jan. 1.
It's the first sign-up deadline for healthcare.gov. The original cutoff of Dec. 15 was extended after a series of glitches left the website nearly inoperable for two months following its Oct. 1 rollout. The next date to flag, March 31, marks the end of open enrollment.
Both insurance companies operating in Alaska's federally-run marketplace have agreed to provide coverage retroactively to Jan. 1 as long as those who meet the Dec. 23 deadline pay their premiums on time.
For Moda Health, payments for January coverage are due by Jan. 20, said Katie Paullin, the Portland-based company's marketing manager. Premiums must be paid by Jan. 14 for plans with Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alaska, according to spokeswoman Melanie Coon.
Coverage will begin Feb. 1 for those who miss the deadline by a few hours or a few weeks. People must enroll by the 15th of the month for their plans to go into effect on the first of the next month, said Tyann Boling, the chief operating officer of Enroll Alaska, a private health insurance broker affiliated with Northrim Bank.
Alaska navigators, certified counselors and Enroll Alaska said they've seen a surge in people seeking help with marketplace enrollment in recent weeks. By Friday afternoon, Boling said Enroll Alaska had assisted nearly 600 people in selecting a plan, a jump from the 122 reported on Dec. 4.
Jon Zasada, director of development and marketing with the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center, said they've helped 110 people fill out applications, 30 of whom completed the enrollment process and chose a plan.
In the final days before the Monday deadline, Zasada said marketplace counselors had to be selective in who they saw.
"We're highly prioritizing," Zasada said. "Right now part of my conversation with folks that are interested is, 'Have you started to make plans for (medical) procedures in January where you actually need coverage?' Those are the people we're prioritizing."
Under the Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, everyone in the United States must carry health insurance or face penalties. But some people are exempted from the individual insurance mandate, like Alaska Natives, prisoners or those whose incomes are so low they are deemed too poor to afford health insurance.
Downloadable exemption applications were posted Friday on healthcare.gov.
Hardship exemptions are due by March 31. They're available to people who fit a number of criterion like those who have had family members recently die or the recently evicted. Gov. Sean Parnell rejected Medicaid expansion in the state, leaving tens of thousands of people too poor to qualify for government subsidies in the marketplace and also unqualified for Medicaid. These people will need to fill out an exemption application or face penalties.
Alaska Natives and American Indians who do not want health insurance through the marketplace also must apply for an exemption. For those not enrolled in a village tribe or tribal organization and who aren't a shareholder in an Alaska regional or village corporation, the deadline is the end of 2014, said Monique Martin, government relations specialist with the Anchorage Native Tribal Health Consortium. Those who meet one of the requirements can fill out an exemption when filing their 2014 federal tax returns, she said.
The tax penalties for those who haven't applied for an exemption and don't have health insurance begin in 2014 and increase each year. For the first year, it's one percent of the annual household income or $95 per person, whichever is higher. In 2015, it's 2 percent of income or $325 per person and in following years it's 2.5 percent of income or $695 per person.
Notable dates for healthcare.gov:
Dec. 23 is the last day to enroll in health insurance for coverage to begin Jan. 1.
Must enroll by the 15th of the month for coverage to begin the first of the following month.
The sign-up deadline to avoid penalties is March 31.
Hardship exemptions are due March 31.
Alaska Native and American Indian exemptions must be submitted by end of 2014 or when filing 2014 federal tax returns.
Need marketplace assistance in Alaska?
Health Insurance Marketplace:
Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium:
anthc.org/aca; 1-907-729-7777 or 855-882-6842
United Way of Anchorage:
liveunitedanchorage.org; 2-1-1 or 1-800-478-2221
enrollingalaska.com; 907-770-5100 or 1-855-385-5550
Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center:
Reach Tegan Hanlon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.
By TEGAN HANLON