November 14, 2013

Maine health care sign-ups slow

Only 271 get through the troubled federal website to select insurance in the first month, and many other states have similar low enrollments.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Todd Park, the White House chief technology officer, testifies Wednesday before the House Oversight Committee on Capitol Hill.

The Associated Press

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Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said of the federal health insurance marketplace: “We expect enrollment will grow substantially throughout the next five months.”

The Associated Press

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By contrast, 36 percent of the eligible applicants in Connecticut got through the process to select insurance plans through that state-run exchange. In Vermont, another state that’s operating its own exchange, that figure was 40 percent.

The enrollment numbers released Wednesday also include evidence that the problems with the website have hindered Mainers’ attempts to enroll in Medicaid, the publicly funded health insurance program for low-income Americans.

According to the enrollment data, 623 Mainers who accessed the federal marketplace were deemed eligible for Medicaid.

People who find out that 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 Wednesday that federal officials have yet to pass along any complete files that would enable the state to determine who qualifies.

“Essentially, we are not getting the data that would allow us to take action,” Martins said.

Nearly 78 percent of the individuals included in the applications filed in Maine were deemed eligible for the health insurance program. More than 2,000 of those eligible individuals – 42 percent – were also deemed eligible for federal subsidies to help pay their insurance premiums.

Political tension over the Affordable Care Act has escalated on Capitol Hill despite the White House’s assurances that the website has improved markedly since Oct. 1.

The New York Times reported that some House Democrats warned White House officials Wednesday that they must come up with an alternative or the Democrats may support a Republican bill to allow individuals to keep their insurance for as long as one year. Senate Democrats will meet with White House officials Thursday.

Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire introduced legislation Wednesday to extend the sign-up period for health insurance. The deadline is now March 31. And Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine reiterated his support for an extension in light of the website’s problems.

“While I know the administration is working hard to fix these problems, I continue to believe that the enrollment period must be extended and that it must take into account the failures of the website,” Michaud said.

Republicans, meanwhile, seized on the problems and the low enrollment numbers to decry what they see as a fatally flawed law.

“We think the thing ought to be repealed and replaced entirely,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., before the release of the enrollment figures. “We think it can’t possibly work.”

 

Kevin Miller can be contacted at (207) 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@pressherald.com

Twitter: KevinMillerDC

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