RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Problems continue with the healthcare.gov website. In the state of Alaska, two insurers are offering plans on the Obamacare marketplace. As of last week, they reported just 38 Alaskans had managed to enroll for coverage. Anchorage hair stylist Lara Imler is one of the lucky few who successfully worked their way through the website. She's now waiting confirmation of insurance she hopes will start in January. Alaska Public Radio Network's Annie Feidt reports.
ANNIE FEIDT, BYLINE: In a small salon in midtown Anchorage, Lara Imler turns off a blow dryer and hands her client a mirror.
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LARA IMLER: All right. I'm going to show you the back. It's better now.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Awesome. Yay. I'm so happy.
IMLER: Good. Good. You're all done, my dear.
FEIDT: Imler left her job as an accountant in 2004. She's a lot happier cutting hair than she was sitting in front of a computer. She loves making people feel better about themselves. But she does miss one big thing about her old job.
I had health insurance with a pretty big corporate office for about six years, and it was wonderful.
Now, even without health insurance, Imler spends a lot of time in doctors' offices. The 37-yearold has Hashimoto's disease, an autoimmune disorder that affects the thyroid. The treatments and blood work she needs are expensive, but not as expensive as having insurance.
Being self employed, getting my premium at anything reasonable, wasn't happening. I think my last quote was $1,200 a month for myself.
Imler was determined to find something better on the new Affordable Care Act marketplace. She logged onto healthcare.gov a few days after it went live last month. She tried four times that day and four more times the first week but kept running into error messages. So she decided to wait a few weeks. On October 24th, she logged back in and slowly started making her way through the process.
IMLER: So you get to a point where you finally get to pick what health insurance you want and all the buttons have to be double clicked. If you don't know that or try that it doesn't go anywhere. It just sits there.
FEIDT: So it's not like it says double click here?
IMLER: No, no. This website is so not user friendly, you can't even figure out what they're trying to get you to do, unless you accidentally get there.
FEIDT: Imler has a degree in computer programming. She's even built a few websites. She thinks that experience helped her persevere through the trouble spots on healthcare.gov. About two hours after she started, she landed on a screen that told her she had successfully enrolled. She was pleasantly surprised by the price. Imler qualified for a subsidy, and chose a mid-level plan that will cost her $110 a month.
IMLER: The website sucks, I'm not going to lie, but the idea that I might actually be able to afford health insurance, is huge to me. It will be a huge burden off my family.
FEIDT: The plan is a great deal for Imler, but for her insurance company it's a different story. The claims from her chronic condition are likely to pile up quickly. But insurance companies are ready for people like Imler, especially in the first year. Jeff Davis is president of Premera Alaska. He says the company is prepared to lose money in 2014, maybe even a lot of money. But in the long run, he thinks Premera can balance the mix with healthy people.
JEFF DAVIS: The first wave will be people who know they need coverage, right? So that's a little scary. So then, the question, the challenge becomes, how do we help inform others, particularly those who are subsidy eligible, that this is available to them and help them figure out how to get to it?
FEIDT: Lara Imler is still waiting for enrollment confirmation from her new insurance company. She's optimistic that will come soon. If it doesn't, she'll start all over with healthcare.gov. For NPR News, I'm Annie Feidt in Anchorage.
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MONTAGNE: And that story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, Alaska Public Radio Network, and Kaiser Health News.
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MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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