PORTLAND — Health advocates are making a final push for the uninsured to enroll on the health insurance marketplace by the March 31 deadline, the final day to sign up for insurance and avoid paying a penalty.
Events are being held in Portland and Lewiston on Tuesday, including walk-in hours for the uninsured to get help signing up for subsidized benefits on www.healthcare.gov.
The penalty for those who decide to forgo health insurance would be $95 or more, depending on income. Many can also avoid paying the penalty under a number of exceptions built into the Affordable Care Act, including if coverage costs more than 8 percent of income and if patients would qualify for Medicaid coverage but their state chose not to expand it. So far, Maine has not expanded Medicaid coverage, although lawmakers are mulling a compromise plan pushed by moderate Republicans that would need to overcome a veto promised by Gov. Paul LePage.
Maine has been one of the success stories for enrollment so far compared to other states, signing up more people than anticipated.
By the end of January, 20,511 Mainers had signed up for insurance in the marketplace, much higher than the 14,260 projected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Maine was the top state for enrollment of the 35 states using the federally run marketplace. A few states that chose to operate their own health insurance marketplaces, including New York and Connecticut, performed better than Maine.
Alyson Cummings, communications coordinator for the Maine Health Access Foundation, which has spent more than $2.5 million over the past year in enrollment efforts, said much of Maine’s success in signing up patients can be attributed to grass-roots efforts.
Counting paid workers and volunteers, she said, hundreds have been helping people sign up for insurance.
The foundation started the www.enroll207.com website to help connect the uninsured with enrollment resources, such as a map showing the nearest places to sign up, phone numbers and sign-up events.
Although people can sign up without assistance, Cummings said many feel more comfortable with an expert at their side.
“We’re investing a lot in getting the word out,” she said. “We have been absolutely bowled over with the grass-roots outreach efforts. They’re in every area of the state.”
Mitchell Stein, an independent health policy consultant based in Cumberland, said the ending of Maine’s low-cost Dirigo plan this year due to budget cutbacks was another factor in Maine’s enrollment success, as many who had insurance through Dirigo were aware it was ending and were looking to obtain new insurance.
Among Tuesday’s events:
• The immigrant community is invited to sign up for insurance from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Maine Access Immigrant Network, 237 Oxford St., Suite 25A, Portland.
• A sign-up for the general public will be from 3 to 5:30 p.m. at the Charles A. Dana Health Education Center at Maine Medical Center, 22 Bramhall St., Portland.
At the same time and same location, a number of officials will speak about the importance of enrolling in health care coverage, including Portland Mayor Michael Brennan and Christie Hager, regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
• In Lewiston, a walk-in sign-up event will be held from 2 to 7 p.m. at Community Concepts, 240 Bates St.
Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at: