PORTLAND, Maine — A federal health official visited Portland Monday as the Obama administration ramps up outreach efforts around Affordable Care Act provisions set to kick in later this year.
Raymond Hurd, regional administrator for the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, led a training forum with area health care organizations at Maine Medical Center. The forum aimed to make Maine health care providers familiar with the insurance marketplaces central to the act, commonly known as Obamacare.
Hurd told the BDN Monday morning that many people are unaware that the Affordable Care Act is still on the books, after surviving Republican repeal threats and a challenge before the Supreme Court. Even fewer, he said, realize that open enrollment in the federally mandated exchange begins on Oct. 1 of this year.
At that point, Hurd said, Americans will be able to log onto HealthCare.gov and shop for federally approved health insurance plans through a single Internet portal. The website until then is setup to answer consumers’ questions about the coming changes.
The law’s so-called individual mandate requires everyone — at least those who don’t qualify for certain hardship exemptions — to get health insurance or risk being fined for noncompliance.
The law also aims to make health insurance more accessible by eliminating lifetime caps on payouts, preventing insurance firms from denying people coverage because of pre-existing conditions and limiting the criteria they can use to increase rates, Hurd said. By dramatically increasing the number of customers in the market, he said, the insurance industry’s cost burden will be spread out over a larger number of people and the prices lowered.
The federal exchanges and their associated website aims to make purchasing that insurance as convenient and inexpensive as possible to those newly required to join the market, Hurd said. Additionally, the federal system will involve training local “Navigators” who in Maine can help the uninsured use the computer search program and understand what federal programs and subsidies they might qualify for.
“If you have more people who have health insurance, the burden on emergency centers or the burden on people’s pocket costs will be lessened,” Hurd said.
Each state in the country had an opportunity to set up state-run insurance exchanges, with the federal exchanges being implemented in the absence of a state system. Maine lawmakers voted against setting the exchange up in-state.