June 24, 2018
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271 Mainers choose Affordable Care Act health plan

Healthcare.gov, the federal government’'s troubled website for the health insurance marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act.
By Jackie Farwell, BDN Staff

About 6,500 Mainers have completed applications for health insurance during the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act’s online marketplaces, but fewer than 300 actually chose a new plan, according to data provided Wednesday by the Obama administration.

The Maine figures were included in long-awaited national enrollment data released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Administration officials had warned that the enrollment totals for the first month would be low given the technical flaws plaguing healthcare.gov, the federal government’s website for the marketplaces in Maine and 35 other states, since its launch on Oct. 1.

As of Nov. 2, 271 Maine people successfully navigated the website and selected a health plan, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ report. They were among 106,185 people nationally who had selected a plan.

Those figures include people who have paid their first monthly premium — the definition insurers use for “enrolled” customers — as well as those who haven’t yet paid.

More than three-quarters signed up through a state-run marketplace, and the rest through healthcare.gov.

The numbers are a far cry from the half million sign-ups the Obama administration said it expected before the website’s launch.

Many more individuals finished their applications but hadn’t yet chosen a health plan. In Maine, the 6,500 people covered by 3,550 applications completed through the site or the mail learned whether they were eligible for a marketplace plan or Medicaid, and whether they qualified for federal financial help to afford coverage, according to the HHS data.

They represent just a fraction of the 65,000 to 104,000 Mainers that the state insurance bureau estimates are eligible to shop on the marketplaces.

About 5,000 Mainers completed an application and were deemed eligible to shop on the marketplaces, which serve a relatively small portion of the population. Also called “exchanges,” the marketplaces are open to small businesses and individuals who buy their own health insurance rather than receive coverage through work or government programs such as Medicaid and Medicare.

Of those 5,000, 2,116 Maine individuals qualified for a tax credit to lower their insurance premium, and some also qualified for a subsidy to offset their out-of-pocket costs, such as deductibles and co-pays.

The data also showed that 623 Mainers learned through healthcare.gov that they qualified for Medicaid coverage for themselves or their children. About 800 applications were categorized as pending or ineligible for a marketplace plan.

Technical glitches and outages have plagued healthcare.gov since its Oct. 1 launch, preventing many people from signing up for health plans.

In a press call Wednesday, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said she’s confident more Americans will enroll as technical problems with the site continue to be resolved.

“The marketplace is working and people are enrolling,” she said.

The HHS figures did not include information about the ages of those attempting to enroll in coverage through the website. Obamacare’s overhaul of the insurance market for those who buy their own coverage relies on young, healthy Americans signing up to help share the risk with older, sicker consumers and keep costs from skyrocketing.

In Maine, health insurance experts who both support and oppose the president’s signature health reform law said the numbers released Wednesday came as no surprise.

“The only thing about the numbers in Maine and across the nation that is surprising is how large they are,” said Mitchell Stein of Consumers for Affordable Health Care, an Augusta advocacy group working to sign Mainers up for marketplace health insurance. “Enrollment was always going to get off to a slow start and the technical problems only amplified that effect.”

More people continue to successfully enroll, and local interest in the marketplace plans and subsidies is high, Stein said.

Meanwhile, Joel Allumbaugh, an insurance broker and director of health reform initiatives at the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center, said he wasn’t “the least bit surprised” that the enrollment numbers “are as low as they are.”

While healthcare.gov’s technical glitches are a major factor, the numbers also reflect that many consumers are being hit with more expensive policies through the marketplaces, he said. Some would rather fork over the penalty the law will impose next year on most Americans who lack health insurance, Allumbaugh said.

“I hear day in and day out where people say, ‘It’s more than I can afford and I’ll take my chances on a $95 penalty,’” he said.

One month remains until the Dec. 15 deadline to sign up for coverage that takes effect Jan. 1. The marketplaces’ open enrollment period extends through March 31.


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