Politics

October 22, 2013

Maine kept in dark on health care sign-up data

U.S. officials won’t provide numbers until November, leaving a state panel unsure if more public-awareness efforts are needed.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree said in a release, “There is no question that the website for the Affordable Care Act has gotten off to a rough start and it’s outrageous that there have been as many problems as there have been.”

Despite those problems, Pingree said, the law means that millions of people will have access to coverage they could not afford in the past.

“The policies don’t start for another two months at the earliest, so I’m hopeful that the problems can be worked out so even more people can take advantage of that coverage,” she said.

As the problems with the website persist, the phase-in of the mandate that most Americans buy insurance before Feb. 15 or pay a penalty draws near.

Some conservatives have urged the Obama administration to push back the mandate, but the president has resisted that step, which would invite a fresh round of Republican criticism and potentially invite legal action by states.

Hager, with the federal health department, was asked Monday about moving the mandate’s deadline. She said it hasn’t been discussed.

She instead echoed the president’s remarks in his Rose Garden address, saying the administration is doubling its efforts to fix the website. She encouraged advocates to direct applicants to sign up via the federal telephone hotline.

Hager was unable to provide wait times for the hotline, but said the administration is beefing up staffing. It took just under two minutes to reach a representative when a reporter called the hotline Monday.

Maine’s portal to the marketplace – enroll207.com – does not appear to have the same bugs and glitches as the federal website – healthcare.gov. Nonetheless, without specific enrollment data, policymakers said it is impossible to tell how many Mainers even know that insurance, some of it heavily subsidized, is available.

States that have chosen to run their own marketplaces have released some data.

As of Oct. 18, more than 192,000 Americans in 14 states and the District of Columbia had applied for health insurance, according to a compilation of data by the Advisory Board Company, a firm that analyzes health care statistics. That figure provides an incomplete picture because 36 states, including Maine, have let the federal government run their exchanges.

Maine received a federal grant to implement its own exchange, but LePage, backed by the previous Republican Legislature, rejected a state-based exchange.

While Democrats are critical of Republicans’ efforts to derail the health care law, the Obama administration owns the website failure.

The complex federal marketplace cost nearly $400 million to create. According to news reports, contractors who are working on the site say it could take weeks, if not longer, to fix all of the problems.

A software consultant told The New York Times that as many as 5 million lines of software code may have to be rewritten before healthcare.gov runs properly.

Obama acknowledged the problems Monday while defending the law.

“There’s no sugar-coating it,” Obama said. “No one is more frustrated than I am.”

The president said the website issues are not indicative of a failure of the health care law, and he urged opponents not to portray it that way.

“It’s time for folks to stop rooting for its failure, because hardworking, middle-class families are rooting for its success,” he said.

In Maine, advocates for the health care law are frustrated.

Gordon Smith, a lobbyist for the Maine Medical Association, said the website failures are “heartbreaking” for those who fought to expand health insurance.

“We can’t gloss over this,” Smith said.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

 

Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

smistler@pressherald.com

Twitter: @stevemistler

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