Dirigo Health board forgoes monthlong extension

Posted Dec. 09, 2013, at 1:13 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s Dirigo Health insurance program will end Dec. 31 as planned, after its trustees opted against extending the program to help enrollees transition to new coverage.

At a Monday morning meeting, members of Dirigo’s board of trustees decided to forego a one-month extension, a move that was under discussion given the troubled rollout of Healthcare.gov, according to Joe Bruno, the board’s chairman The federal website, the online gateway for a new health insurance marketplace set up under the Affordable Care Act, has been beset by technical problems since its launch on Oct. 1, preventing many Americans, including Dirigo beneficiaries, from enrolling.

Now that the website appears to be improving and more people have been able to sign up for coverage, the Dirigo extension isn’t needed, Bruno said. Dirigo has 2,800 beneficiaries left, and many of its small business customers are shifting to other policies, he said.

Dirigo Health, signed into law a decade ago, was a signature initiative of former Maine Gov. John Baldacci and an effort to make health insurance more affordable for individuals and small businesses. The program offers coverage through Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

Under Gov. Paul LePage, Republicans stripped Dirigo of funding, paving the way for the program to phase out at the end of this month.

While Dirigo’s board expects a fairly smooth transition for some of its members, many will lose Dirigo subsidies that help them pay for health insurance, Bruno said. An estimated 1,400 to 2,000 Dirigo customers will fall into a coverage gap, earning too much to qualify for Medicaid — since the state opted against expanding the federal health insurance program for the poor under the ACA — and too little to qualify for new subsidies provided through the law, he said. Most of those consumers can’t afford health insurance without financial help, Bruno said.

Despite the Dec. 31 end date, the board will meet again in February, he said. Legislation eliminated Dirigo’s funding, but the agency itself still exists, and trustees must discuss the fate of other programs it oversees, including the Maine Quality Forum, which collects and disseminates data on health care quality.

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