1,200 Maine consumers could lose Obamacare coverage for failure to prove legal residency

Posted Aug. 13, 2014, at 1:02 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 13, 2014, at 4:44 p.m.

About 1,200 Maine consumers who signed up for insurance through Healthcare.gov failed to submit proof that they legally reside in the U.S., putting their coverage at risk, the federal Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday.

The Maine consumers were among 310,000 nationally identified with “inconsistencies” in their applications. U.S. HHS issued notices to the affected consumers this week warning that the federal government would terminate their coverage by Sept. 30 unless the missing citizenship and immigration documents are provided by Sept. 5.

“There have been a number of barriers for immigrants lawfully here who try to apply for insurance in the marketplace,” said Robyn Merrill, a senior policy analyst at Maine Equal Justice Partners. “They’re eligible for insurance.”

The Affordable Care Act prohibits undocumented workers from buying coverage through the health insurance marketplaces. Immigrants with green cards, refugees, individuals with student or worker visas, among others, are eligible for coverage.

Officials from President Barack Obama’s administration said they have already attempted to contact the affected consumers — who submitted incomplete information or documentation federal programs couldn’t verify — numerous times by mail, email and phone.

While their applications remain incomplete, an inconsistency doesn’t mean an individual is ineligible for coverage, federal officials said. So far, Maine consumers have retained their health insurance, according to Merrill.

Without the proper documentation, individuals will lose both their coverage and federal financial assistance to reduce the cost of their insurance. Most can’t afford the coverage without it, Merrill said.

A number of individuals already responded to the federal government, but their documentation was misplaced or lost, she said.

Further complicating the situation, this week’s notice was issued in English and Spanish, so many consumers may struggle to understand their application status, Merrill said.

Many of Maine’s newest immigrants hail from central and West African countries.

“People getting this notice in English is going to lead to a lot of confusion,” she said.

The Obama administration initially started in May with a roster of 970,000 individuals who signed up for coverage but had citizenship- or immigration-related inconsistencies in their applications. As of this week, 450,000 have submitted the required information, and another 210,000 remain in progress, according to HHS.

“Since this is an urgent matter, we are activating our networks on the ground to reach people directly in the communities where they live,” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said in a news release.

HHS will attempt to contact each consumer two more times by phone and once by email, the release states.

The letters were sent out less than two weeks after 150 organizations representing immigrants and low-income Americans asked U.S. HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell to allow people to keep their coverage while their eligibility is established, according to the Washington Post .

The Affordable Care Act gave many immigrants access to health insurance for the first time, but significant numbers have struggled to enroll, Merrill said.

“The challenge will be for certified assisters and people providing the help to get the word out to people,” she said.

The consumers affected in Maine represent a fraction of the 44,000 residents who signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Most of the outstanding 310,000 Healthcare.gov cases are in Florida in Texas.

Also Tuesday, federal health officials pledged to resolve a much larger group of cases with discrepancies regarding applicants’ income. Enrollees who reported income that doesn’t line up with federal records will be contacted later, according to the news release. In those cases, HHS could cut or rescind individuals’ federal insurance subsidies but not terminate their coverage.

Republicans have repeatedly accused the Obama administration of signing up people who are ineligible for the federal subsidies by failing to properly verify their income and eligibility.

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