- Associated Press - Monday, September 21, 2015

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - The Alaska health department says it has enrolled more than 1,000 people in health care coverage in the first two weeks of the newly expanded Medicaid program.

State officials are projecting that 20,000 low-income residents will sign up for the expanded Medicaid program in its first year, according to the Alaska Dispatch News (https://bit.ly/1KvvrWG). Expanded enrollment began Sept. 1 after the Alaska Supreme Court refused to temporarily block the expansion, which Gov. Bill Walker announced without approval of the Legislature.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 17.2 percent of Alaskans were uninsured last year, though that figure includes Alaska Natives who have no health care beyond what is provided by the Indian Health Service, which is not considered comprehensive.

Alaska Department of Health and Social Services spokeswoman Sarana Schell said there has been a steady stream of applications for the last two weeks. About 450 people filed their own applications, and another 560 people were transferred from other assistance programs.

“It’s too early to tell,” said Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla, one of the Legislature’s chief Medicaid expansion critics. “Some of these things take a while for people to know what’s going on.”

Schell said applications range from as many as 74 being enrolled on Sept. 7 to only two people on Sept. 11. She said the fluctuation reflects the normal “up and down” of applications.

According to state data, just less than two-thirds of those enrolled were between 42 and 64 years old. The rest were between 19 and 41 years old.

Groups working to assist Alaskans with insurance enrollment are expecting an increase of applicants in November when enrollment opens on the federal health care site. Alaska Primary Care Association’s Jessie Menkens, who helps coordinate that effort, said for now people she works with are just excited to help Alaskans get health care, especially if they were not eligible before the expansion.

“There were countless times when we just had to look someone in the eye and say: ‘I’m really sorry, I really don’t have an option to present to you, given your circumstances,’” Menkens said. “We’d look at an income guide and explain as carefully as we could: Unfortunately, if they didn’t earn this amount, they didn’t have the purchasing power necessary to qualify.”

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Information from: Alaska Dispatch News, https://www.adn.com

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