Friday, April 18, 2014
Technical problems with the federal healthcare.gov website may be hindering enrollment in Medicaid, the publicly funded health insurance program for low-income Americans.
Maine officials say the problems have prevented state agencies from receiving any data about people who may have applied for insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
The Obama administration originally touted healthcare.gov as a one-stop shop to buy health insurance. The site also was designed to direct people to Medicaid if the application process revealed that they might qualify for the program – known here as MaineCare.
The ongoing failure of the federal website has thrown a wrench into that process.
People who find out they’re eligible for Medicaid while shopping on healthcare.gov are supposed to be directed to their state governments, which administer the program and have varying eligibility guidelines. But the federal government hasn’t been able to transfer any information from those applications to state Medicaid programs.
Maine Department of Health and Human Services spokesman John Martins said Tuesday that the state has not received any Medicaid applications from the federal government, “and as such, we cannot determine eligibility.”
Martins said there has been no noticeable increase in Medicaid applications directly through the state since healthcare.gov went live Oct. 1. Other states have reported increased Medicaid enrollment through the health insurance marketplaces they are running.
Maine has decided not to run its own marketplace, so Mainers must use the federal system.
It’s not clear how many potential Medicaid applicants, if any, have been prevented from enrolling in Maine or other states because of the federal website’s problems. Maine is among 36 states that do not have their own health insurance marketplaces. As of June, about 276,000 Mainers were enrolled in MaineCare.
While Mainers can sign up for subsidized health insurance through the federal website, state officials said they have not received any information about how many have enrolled.
“At this point in time, we have no data because of technological issues at the federal level,” Martins said. “The feds have stated that they hope to resolve this by the end of November.”
The technical disaster has effectively closed the new gateway to Medicaid enrollment, which national health experts consider a pillar of the federal health care law. Recent national news reports have shown that Medicaid administrators in several states that opted for federal marketplaces have not received referrals from the federal system in the six weeks it has been active.
Maine appears to be no different.
National experts worry that the problem could be significant because many people who want to buy health insurance through the marketplace may not realize they are eligible for Medicaid.
Designers of the federal law anticipated increased Medicaid enrollment when the law was enacted in 2010, because of an expansion of the program through the law and an assumption that people who are eligible would find out while shopping for insurance.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Medicaid enrollment was projected to increase 37.4 percent. In Maine, Kaiser projected an increase of 18.4 percent, or 50,000 people. However, that analysis assumed the state would expand Medicaid eligibility through the Affordable Care Act, which it has not.
States that are running their own marketplaces have reported increased Medicaid enrollment. Those increases have come in advance of the eligibility expansion, which doesn’t take effect until 2014.
Maine officials have been unable to ascertain how many residents have signed up for subsidized health insurance through healthcare.gov because of problems with the federal marketplace, said Doug Dunbar, spokesman for the state Bureau of Insurance.
“The Bureau of Insurance hasn’t received enrollment figures from the federal government,” he said. “It’s my understanding that (the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) plans to make numbers available to states, but we don’t have them yet.”
Some major insurance companies are pushing the federal government to let people sign up for coverage directly with insurers, without going through healthcare.gov, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
Neither of the providers in Maine’s marketplace – Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and Maine Community Health Options – responded to calls asking if they would support direct enrollment.
Dunbar said the bureau does not know when it will receive data on the number of Mainers enrolling in the federal health insurance program.
“I believe they hoped to provide data in November, but I think that time frame estimate was given prior to the technology-website issues coming to light,” he said. “(There is) no definitive word on when data will be provided, as far as I know.”
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:
J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at: