Alaskans' enrollment in health care plans under the Affordable Care Act -- popularly known as Obamacare -- has started to pick up as the new year approaches, alongside the first deadline under the health care law's individual mandate.
Alaskans had until the end of the day Tuesday to sign up for healthcare at the federal website Healthcare.gov in order to have coverage beginning Jan. 1, and entities working to help people get that coverage say that their phones have been ringing off the hook in the last few weeks.
Enroll Alaska, the insurance brokerage firm that is assisting Alaskans with signing up, said that December offered far more success than previous months. That included a period when Enroll Alaska suspended use of Healthcare.gov in late October due to ongoing glitches with the site.
Enroll Alaska's Chief operating officer Tyann Boling said Tuesday the insurance brokerage has enrolled more than 700 people thus far. That's a big step up from November, when the company had signed up only 107 people. "That's really good news," she said.
But the company still has a long way to go. Boling wants to see 1,500 additional Alaskans signed up in January.
Around 15 agents are working to sign people up, a "tremendous amount of work," Boling said.
The website is working better, she said, but its efficacy is still hit-or-miss. "It still locks people out," she said.
Sandy McClintock, director of marketing with United Way -- which is also helping people navigate the federal sign-up system -- confirmed that the website works better some days than others.
As of Saturday, United Way navigators had signed up 65 people up for health care plans. In the last two weeks, navigators have been swamped with "wall-to-wall" appointments, McClintock said.
And the increase seems to be continuing. For the upcoming week, "Anchorage navigators are almost completely booked," McClintock said.
The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, which is also assisting individuals enroll in the health care exchange, was not able to provide updated sign-up numbers on Tuesday.
The agencies helping people sign up for health care are just one piece of the puzzle, too: Alaskans are likely signing up on their own, without the assistance of navigators, via Healthcare.gov.
McClintock noted that many of the appointments and phone calls navigators had been fielding were helping Alaskans who were signing up for themselves, and who had specific questions about the process.
Nationwide, more than 850,000 people logged on to Healthcare.gov on Monday, which was five times the number logging on during the same day one week prior, NBC News reported.
Alaskans have until March 31 to enroll in the health care exchange without penalties. Going forward, registration will go in waves: sign up for health care by the 15th of the month, and your health care coverage will start on the first of the following month. Sign up by the first of the month, and your health care will start on the 15th.
Not everyone without insurance needs to sign up for health care – there are several exceptions that may qualify you for an exemption.