The LePage administration is moving forward with plans to fill a new state government position that confused some Maine officials involved in the anticipated expansion of health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Ten people applied for the management position of “health exchange coordinator,” which was posted on the state’s human resources website on Nov. 20. The application deadline was Nov. 29.

The job opening sparked confusion when it was posted just five days after Gov. Paul LePage announced that he wouldn’t implement a state-level online exchange to help eligible Mainers find federally subsidized insurance plans.

“The timing was confusing,” Doug Dunbar, legislative liaison at the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, said Thursday.

Dunbar said the person hired for the job will coordinate efforts by his department and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to implement various aspects of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The person also will be tasked with finding ways to reduce health care costs for Mainers and promote workplace wellness programs, Dunbar said.

Despite the job’s title, Dunbar said, the person won’t help develop or coordinate a state exchange, at least initially. Eligible Mainers can expect to use the federal exchange, known as the Health Plan Finder, which is scheduled to go online before Oct. 1, 2013.

Dunbar said the two departments started planning to hire a coordinator a few months ago, when it was unclear whether Maine would establish its own exchange or use the federal option.

Then on Nov. 15, LePage, a Republican, sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, informing her that Maine wouldn’t create its own exchange because, in part, the state “will not be complicit in the degradation of our nation’s premier health care system.”

As a result, some officials were confused when they saw the job description calling for a coordinator whose primary duties would be “planning, directing and implementing” a health insurance exchange in Maine.

“It’s been confusing all along where this administration has been on (health care reform),” said Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell, a longtime member of the Joint Insurance and Financial Services Committee who has asked to be House chairwoman when the Democratic-dominated 126th Legislature convenes in January.

Treat’s proposal for a state insurance exchange was shot down by the Republican-dominated Legislature in March. Treat and other Democrats say there is bipartisan interest in establishing a state exchange in the future, after evaluating advantages and drawbacks of the federal exchange.

In the meantime, Treat said, “There clearly will need to be coordination between the departments and with the Legislature to ensure compliance with the Affordable Care Act.”

Of the 10 people who applied for the job, nine are Mainers and one is a Massachusetts resident, Dunbar said. A Portland Press Herald request for additional information about the applicants was not fulfilled Thursday.

The two-year, limited-period position has been reviewed and approved to be funded from available revenue through the Bureau of Insurance, within the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, Dunbar said.

The salary range is $58,926 to $81,182 per year. The person will report directly to department Commissioner Anne Head.

Dunbar said it’s unclear how the applicants will be reviewed or when a candidate will be selected, but the position could be filled as early as January.

New coverage options under the Affordable Care Act will take effect Jan. 1, 2014, subsidizing as much as 80 percent of medical costs for qualified people who don’t have insurance.

 

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com