October 12, 2013

High interest, but Mainers facing familiar difficulties signing up for insurance

Maine does not yet have numbers on enrollees through the Affordable Care Act.

By Joe Lawlor jlawlor@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace has been open since Oct. 1, but it’s still unclear how many people have signed up in Maine and other states where the federal government is running the program where individuals can buy subsidized coverage.

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This photo provided by HHS shows the main landing web page for HealthCare.gov. The Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace has been open since Oct. 1, but it’s still unclear how many people have signed up in Maine and other states. It does appear interest is high, but website glitches have also plagued the rollout. (AP Photo/HHS)

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The federally operated website www.healthcare.gov has been beset with glitches, and consumers are reporting that it takes hours to enroll, if they can do it at all. People have until March 31 to sign up for health insurance in 2014, so advocates of the federal health care law say there’s time to work out technical issues.

The number of enrollments through the federal website has not yet been reported, but website crashes from overuse indicate strong interest in obtaining health care.

The Maine Bureau of Insurance has estimated that 5 to 8 percent of the state’s residents, many of them self-employed or working part-time and lacking insurance through employers, will go to the marketplace for coverage in 2014.

With the technical problems, people who are helping consumers get health insurance on the marketplace are resorting to using paper applications and mailing forms.

“It’s frustrating. I’m not going to pretend that it’s not,” said Libby Cummings, outreach specialist for the Portland Community Health Center.

But Cummings said the clients are less frustrated than she is, and they’re signing up for benefits they never had.

Cummings said she has signed up about 10 people for benefits with paper applications. To complete the process, they have to wait for the federal government to mail back additional forms.

Thirty-four states have opted for the federal government to run their marketplaces. In the 16 states that are running their own, and have websites and infrastructure to enroll people, numbers are starting to trickle in.

Kentucky, for example, has enrolled more than 8,000 people, according to The New York Times, and other states are starting to report that thousands are creating accounts.

Kevin Lewis, executive director of Maine Community Health Options, one of two insurance providers that are offering plans on Maine’s marketplace, said he doesn’t know yet how many people are signing up for the plans.

He said there has been strong interest but it’s difficult to forecast when the numbers will start coming in.

“I can’t predict when we’ll have the first complete picture of all enrollment determinations,” Lewis wrote in an email. “I certainly hope it’s soon, and perhaps no later than the end of next week.”

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

jlawlor@pressherald.com

Twitter: @joelawlorph

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