Gov. Paul LePage last week tried to prove a political point over the partial federal government shutdown.
“With gridlock in Washington, the massive debt and the end of stimulus funds, we cannot rely on the federal government to pay for existing programs, let alone new programs,” the Republican governor said in his weekly radio address.
LePage was referring to an expansion of Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act that would have extended health coverage to 50,000 low-income Maine adults without children and prevented another 25,000 childless adults and parents from losing their coverage on Jan. 1.
The message from LePage was clear: Why depend on a federal government that’s proving itself undependable?
Good question — aside from the fact that the federal government has never backed off its past Medicaid funding promises, and it was well known the inflated Medicaid reimbursement rates included in the 2009 economic stimulus bill would come to an end.
As the government shutdown continued last week, millions of people across the U.S. were browsing their new options for health insurance under the federal health care reform law. And they were running into a different lack of federal dependability. While 8.6 million Americans logged on to healthcare.gov in the three days after the health law’s online marketplaces opened, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, few were able to enroll in insurance plans.
Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper reported just 51,000 people completed insurance applications through the federal website in Obamacare’s first week.
But the picture was different in the states that decided to operate their own health insurance marketplaces.
Under the Affordable Care Act, states could choose whether they wanted to run their own exchanges, partner with the federal government or leave it almost entirely to the federal government to handle the technical operations.
After Obamacare passed in 2010, Maine began planning to set up its own exchange. Then the 2010 elections happened, Republicans took control of both chambers of the state Legislature and the Blaine House, and the exchange planning fizzled out.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Maine is one of 27 states leaving exchange operations entirely up to the federal government. While the state’s Bureau of Insurance vetted the coverage plans offered on Maine’s exchange, Mainers seeking coverage must enroll through the federal government’s website.
Yes, that same website through which millions of Americans so far have been unable to sign up for insurance.
Residents in the 17 states operating their own health insurance marketplaces haven’t had to put up with those complications. The New York Times reported last week that enrollment has been smoother, and more people have been successful, in the states that set up their own exchanges. Some of those state-based websites got off to a rocky start, but the problems were sorted out more quickly than they have been on the federal website.
So, perhaps LePage had a point last week when he stated that Maine can’t afford to rely on the federal government. But the point he was proving was that he made the wrong choice when he decided he wouldn’t “lift a finger” to set up an insurance exchange in Maine.
As a result, the more than 140,000 Maine residents without insurance who now might be looking for coverage could be having a harder time than they should.