Maine beats Affordable Care Act enrollment target

A man looks over the Affordable Care Act signup page on the HealthCare.gov website in New York in this Oct. 2, 2013 photo illustration.
MIKE SEGAR | REUTERS
A man looks over the Affordable Care Act signup page on the HealthCare.gov website in New York in this Oct. 2, 2013 photo illustration.
Posted March 11, 2014, at 7:12 p.m.
Last modified March 12, 2014, at 8:14 a.m.

The number of Mainers signing up for private health insurance under the Affordable Care Act dropped off in February, but far surpassed a federal enrollment goal as a March 31 deadline looms.

From the Oct. 1 launch of Healthcare.gov through March 1, 25,412 Maine residents selected a private health plan through the federal government’s gateway for the marketplaces in Maine and 35 other states, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That’s up from 20,511 Mainers at the end of January, but a lag from the previous month’s sign-up rate.

Nationally, about 4.2 million people have signed up for health plans through Healthcare.gov and state-run marketplaces. About 900,000 signed up in February, down from 1.14 million in January and well short of the Obama administration’s enrollment goals. The waning pace could spell trouble for the health care law, which administration officials had hoped would attract 6 million sign-ups by March 31, the last day of open enrollment.

Maine, however, has emerged as a leader in health insurance enrollments compared to other states using Healthcare.gov. The state beat not only the federal target of 18,400 enrollments by the end of February, but also outperformed, ahead of schedule, a goal of 23,000 enrollment by the end of the month.

“Maine’s numbers are looking good,” Ray Hurd, regional administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said Tuesday following a Portland health insurance sign-up event.

Christie Hager, regional director for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, credited Maine’s “all hands on deck” approach for the state’s enrollment success. Multiple community and health groups partnered to spread awareness of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance options, she said.

Will Down, who just moved to Portland from San Diego, signed up for a new Anthem health plan at the event, with help from Liz Charles of Maine Migrant Health.

“You’re done,” Charles said, high-fiving Down as the pair completed his application on Healthcare.gov.

Down, 29, said he expected more of a hassle with the site, after hearing about its troubled rollout.

“It was a lot easier than I thought it would be,” he said.

Sitting in front of a laptop at the Charles A. Dana Health Education Center at Maine Medical Center, Down participated in of one of three ACA sign-up events held throughout Maine Tuesday. Down, who qualified for a federal subsidy to help him afford his premium, signed up for a plan that will cost him just shy of $25 a month.

“I don’t want to go bankrupt if something bad or an accident did happen,” he said of his choice to buy coverage.

As a young, healthy enrollee, Down represents a demographic crucial to the health reform law’s success. The Affordable Care Act’s overhaul of the insurance market for those who buy their own coverage relies on healthy Americans, who tend to be younger, signing up to help share the risk with older, sicker consumers and keep costs from skyrocketing.

In Maine, the oldest state in the nation, just 19 percent of enrollees through the end of February were aged 18-34, among the lowest showings in the country for young adult signups.

Nationally, young adults aren’t signing up at the rate administration officials had expected, representing a quarter of all enrollments so far. The administration previously said 40 percent of enrollees should be young adults to offset the higher costs of their older counterparts.

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.

Under the ACA, everyone must have health insurance this year or pay a penalty, with few exceptions. The penalty is at least $95 but potentially much more, depending on income. Those who fail to sign up by March 31 will have to wait until November for another chance to buy health insurance through the marketplaces.

 

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