WASHINGTON — New statistics show that Maine is approaching its goal for health insurance sign-ups under the Affordable Care Act faster than almost every other state.
Through Jan. 31, Maine surpassed the federal target for enrollments by a greater percentage than any other state that is using the federal health insurance marketplace, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
And the numbers show that Maine is approaching its goal for the six-month open enrollment period, which ends March 31, faster than any other state that’s using the federal system. A handful of states that have their own marketplaces are outpacing Maine.
The new figures also shed light on who is signing up for the insurance in Maine.
Fifty-six percent are women – about the national percentage. Just 19 percent are in the 18- to 34-year-old age group, which is key to helping keep prices down. And nearly 90 percent of Mainers who have signed up qualified for federal help paying their premiums.
“The numbers look good to us. It really says the headaches of October are passed,” said Mitchell Stein, policy director for Maine-based Consumers for Affordable Health Care, which supports the new law.
By the end of January, 20,511 Mainers had signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The federal DHHS had projected in September that 14,260 Mainers would enroll by Jan. 31. That means Maine exceeded its target by 44 percent.
That was more than any of the 35 other states that are relying on the federal government’s marketplace.
Only Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York exceeded their Jan. 31 targets by a wider margin, and all three operate their own marketplaces.
Already, Maine is 89.2 percent of the way toward its target of 23,000 people enrolled by March 31.
Nationally, just 46.9 percent of the enrollment goal has been reached.
As of Jan. 31, about 3.3 million Americans had signed up for coverage through state-run or federal marketplaces – about 1 million short of the goal for that date and well shy of the 7 million the Obama administration hopes will be signed up by March 31.
Eighty-nine percent of the Mainers who have signed up for insurance are eligible for federal subsidies to help pay their premiums based on their income. Nationwide, 82 percent of those who have signed up for coverage are eligible for subsidies.
Stein, with Consumers for Affordable Health Care, said Maine’s higher subsidy rate might help explain why the pace of enrollment is faster here than in other states.
But Stein said his organization believed from the start that the 23,000 target for Maine was too conservative, given the demand for affordable health insurance in the state. Consumers for Affordable Health Care has estimated that 50,000 to 75,000 Maine residents will likely sign up for insurance on the marketplace within the first year.
Stein said the pace of sign-ups in Maine suggests that the online marketplace, HealthCare.gov, has largely recovered from the technical problems that plagued it last fall, particularly in October, when it was launched.
Maine Community Health Options, one of two insurers that are providing coverage in Maine, is well ahead of its conservative target for enrollments.
“We set a goal of 15,500 by the end of 2014 and have already surpassed that,” said CEO Kevin Lewis. “Things are going very well.”
The health insurance marketplace, a centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act, was set up to cater largely to policy holders who buy health insurance on the individual or small-business market and don’t receive it from an employer or through government programs.
After March 31, those who can afford insurance but don’t buy it in 2014 may face fines.
January was the first month in which sign-ups for health coverage nationwide surpassed the Obama administration’s expectations, likely reflecting improvements with HealthCare.gov and increasing awareness of the law.
Federal officials set a target of 3,450 new enrollees in Maine in January; the actual number was 6,807.
Several “navigators” who are helping Mainers sign up for coverage said Thursday that they are seeing consistent interest in the program.
As expected, the number of people calling or requesting appointments with navigators at the Opportunity Alliance in Portland spiked in December as people rushed to enroll in time for coverage to begin Jan. 1. Activity subsided for a few weeks, then calls and requests for assistance began rising again, said program director Karen Turgeon.
The Opportunity Alliance has talked to more than 800 people and helped about 123 enroll since November.
Libby Cummings, a navigator at the Portland Community Health Center, said the activity in her office has been “consistently high” since Jan. 1. Cummings said she is hearing from more people who haven’t had insurance for some time and are beginning to shop around on the marketplace.
“I was happy to see more young people signing up,” Cummings said. “I think that will definitely continue into these next few months.”
The pool of enrollees is older in Maine than in most other states. Sixty-one percent of those who have signed up for coverage so far in Maine are 45 or older, compared with 53 percent nationally.
Just 19 percent of enrollees in Maine were 18 to 34, which is considered an important group financially because they tend to consume fewer health care dollars than older Americans. Only two states, West Virginia and Arizona, had smaller proportions of 18- to 34-year-olds, while the national average was 25 percent.
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