Obamacare signups accelerate in Maine, but short of projections

Healthcare.gov, the federal government'’s website for the health insurance marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act
Healthcare.gov, the federal government'’s website for the health insurance marketplaces created under the Affordable Care Act
Posted Dec. 11, 2013, at 10:51 a.m.
Last modified Dec. 11, 2013, at 5:55 p.m.

The number of Mainers signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act has jumped nearly sixfold, though nationally enrollments through the balky healthcare.gov remain far short of White House projections, according to new federal data released Wednesday.

In the two months after the site’s Oct. 1 launch, about 1,750 Maine residents chose a health plan through the federal government’s gateway for the marketplaces in Maine and 35 other states, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That’s a surge from just 271 Mainers in October.

Many more people finished their applications but hadn’t yet chosen a health plan. In Maine, 16,325 individuals completed applications through the site or the mail and 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 department’s data.

Nearly 6,000 Mainers qualified for financial assistance, while 1,079 adults or their children were deemed eligible for Medicaid, or MaineCare.

The state, however, which runs MaineCare jointly with the federal government, hasn’t received complete information about potential enrollees, according to John Martins, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Without it, DHHS can’t determine whether Mainers funneled through healthcare.gov actually are eligible for MaineCare, he said.

Nationally, close to 365,000 people had signed up for private insurance as of Nov. 30 under the federal health reform law. While more than three times October’s total, the number is less than a third of the 1.2 million administration officials had projected would enroll by the end of November.

The bulk were from the 14 states running their own insurance marketplaces, while 137,000 signed up through healthcare.gov.

Also called “exchanges,” the marketplaces are geared toward small businesses and individuals who buy their own health insurance rather than receive coverage through work or government programs such as Medicaid and Medicare. In Maine, about 65,000 to 104,000 people are estimated to be eligible to shop on the marketplaces.

Kevin Lewis, CEO of Maine Community Health Options, one of two insurers in Maine selling plans through healthcare.gov, said the numbers released Wednesday reflect the dramatically rising enrollment he’s seeing.

“This is compounded further with even greater velocity of enrollment in these early days of December,” he wrote in an email.

Consumers face a quickly approaching Dec. 23 deadline, the last day to enroll for plans to take effect by Jan. 1, 2014. Enrollees also must pay their first monthly premium on time for their coverage to take effect by the new year.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ enrollment numbers reflect consumers who have chosen a plan but may or may not have paid their first premium.

Some insurance consultants and insurers say those payments are barely trickling in, raising concerns about how many people actually will have coverage on Jan. 1, according to a Wednesday report by ProPublica, an investigative journalism nonprofit group.

Lewis said he couldn’t share how many Maine Community Health Options enrollees have paid their first premium, which is due by the end of the year.

“We are getting calls from our newly enrolled members to make payment, and so I think that this awareness is on the rise,” he wrote.

Anthem, the other insurer selling plans to Maine consumers through healthcare.gov, noted in a statement that consumers can still enroll in marketplace plans through March 2014. The company did not release how many Anthem customers have paid their first premium.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services figures lack demographic information about 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.

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