September 26, 2013

Obamacare costlier for Maine than most of U.S.

But premiums in the new marketplace will still be cheaper than comparable plans previously offered here, experts say.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

and Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Health Care Reform
On Oct. 1, Mainers can begin enrolling for health insurance coverage under Obamacare. How will you be affected? Send your questions to the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. We'll provide the answers as we publish a series of stories throughout the month of September on the Affordable Care Act.

On average, each state will have eight health insurance companies competing for subscribers. Maine will have only two, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield and Maine Community Health Options.

The study says more competition means lower prices. The states with the lowest average premiums tend to have more insurance providers offering plans.

Besides having only two companies competing in the marketplace, Maine faces several issues that increase the cost of health care, experts said.

“There’s an issue of demographics,” said Stein, “with Maine being the oldest state. We’re rural and spread out, so we have small hospitals with no economies of scale to save money. And we have some markets where there is a lack of competition.”

Maine ranks fifth among the states for per-capita health care costs, according to 2009 federal statistics. Maine’s costs averaged $8,521 per person in 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

One of the biggest factors is that the median age of Maine residents – 43.5 years – is the oldest in the nation, according to the U.S. Census. The state’s proportion of people 65 and older is second only to Florida’s.

The state also has higher costs because it is largely rural, Stein said. Many regions have a lack of competition among health care providers. And small, rural hospitals have limited ability to save money.

For example, a rural hospital must pay for basic staffing, heat, security and other fixed costs. With fewer patients to cover the costs, each patient ends up paying more for each visit than at a hospital with more patients.

Also, small hospitals have less bargaining power with their vendors because they buy fewer supplies than larger hospitals.

Nationally, the rates released by the DHHS are 16 percent less than those originally expected by the Congressional Budget Office.

“We are excited to see that rates in the marketplace are even lower than originally projected,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a prepared statement. “In the past, consumers were too often denied or priced-out of quality health insurance options, but thanks to the Affordable Care Act consumers will be able to choose from a number of new coverage options at a price that is affordable.”

The Obama administration released the state-by-state cost estimates as some congressional Republicans continued their attempts to defund the Affordable Care Act.

Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

jhall@pressherald.com

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com

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Today's poll: Health insurance

Are you considering purchasing health insurance through one of the federal exchanges?

Yes

No

View Results