Saturday, April 19, 2014
As key provisions of the Affordable Care Act are set to go into effect, the federal government and a number of nonprofit groups are gearing up to help people and small businesses navigate the sweeping new law.
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Beginning Oct. 1, people can sign up for health insurance at www.healthcare.gov on new state exchanges designed to make coverage affordable for the self-employed and people who don't have insurance through their employer. Whether the exchanges will lower or drive up the cost of health insurance is the subject of much debate.
States have begun to release the rates that insurance companies will charge for benefits.
Maine will release its rates next week for the two insurance providers on its exchange -- Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and Maine Community Health Options.
But marketing efforts for the exchange in Maine are on the low end compared to most states, according to a recent 50-state analysis by The Associated Press. Federal funding to market the exchange in Maine totals $2 million, or $1.50 per capita, according to the report. Other states are spending several dollars per capita on marketing efforts, with West Virginia spending more than $9 per person on marketing.
The lack of marketing in Maine is worrisome, health care advocates told the Press Herald.
"Even McDonald's has to spend money to get people to know about their new chicken sandwich," said Wendy Wolf, CEO of the Maine Health Access Foundation.
Kevin Lewis, CEO of Maine Community Health Options, said he's concerned about the lack of advertising in Maine.
"One of the challenges is this is new terrain for everyone," Lewis said.
"This is going to make it harder to get people to enroll," said Sara Gagne-Holmes, executive director of health care advocacy group Maine Equal Justice Partners.
Wolf said the initial discrepancy has to do with states such as Maine letting the federal government run the exchanges versus states that agreed to operate the exchanges. States that signed up to run the exchanges received federal money for marketing, while states that didn't are so far receiving far less money for advertising, Wolf said.
Whether the federal government will come through with additional money for Maine and other low-advertising states is unclear. The Boston office of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services didn't immediately answer questions about the topic Friday afternoon, but may have answers next week, according to a spokeswoman.
Meanwhile, a number of seminars and webinars are being held in the coming weeks to help individuals and small business owners understand the new law.
Among the seminars:
• The Affordable Care Act: What's Next for Maine: 4-5:30 p.m. Aug. 19 at Lee Hall, Wishcamper Center, University of Southern Maine, Portland.
• Health Care Reform Forum: 8-11 a.m. Aug. 22 at Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland.
• What's Up With Health Care Reform? 8:30-11 a.m. Sept. 13 at The Harraseeket Inn in Freeport.
Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at: