January 14

Health sign-ups jump by 12,000 in Maine

Overall enrollments so far show solid demand, but 43% are 55 or older. Officials expect more youth interest by March 31.

By Joe Lawlor jlawlor@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Frederick Kamegni is probably eligible for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, but he didn’t know it before he walked into the Portland Community Health Center to see his doctor Monday.

click image to enlarge

Dr. Magili Quinn examines Frederick Kamegni at the Portland Community Health Center. Kamegni is applying for political asylum and may be eligible for health insurance under the new federal law.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Read the January enrollment report

ACA, by the numbers

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Monday released numbers for enrollment on the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance marketplace, through Dec. 28. Here’s how Maine compared with national averages and with other states.

In Maine, 13,700 people had enrolled by the end of December, and 2.2 million had signed up nationally. Vermont, 15,000; New Hampshire, 11,400; Massachusetts, 5,400; Rhode Island, 9,800.

Forty-three percent of Maine enrollees were ages 55-64, compared with 35 percent on the federal marketplace. In nearby states, Massachusetts had 24 percent in the 55-64 bracket; Vermont, 38 percent; Rhode Island, 34 percent; New Hampshire, 38 percent.

For the 18-34 age bracket, Maine was at 18 percent; Vermont, 19 percent; Rhode Island, 22 percent; Massachusetts, 31 percent; New Hampshire, 22 percent.

Kamegni, 40, may soon join the more than 13,700 Mainers who had signed up for coverage under the federal health care law through Dec. 28.

Maine and other states had a surge in enrollment on the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplace last month, according to figures released Monday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

At the end of November, Maine’s enrollment was about 1,700.

Nationally, about 2.2 million had signed up for insurance by the end of 2013.

“These are very solid numbers and they show a significant demand for what’s being offered,” said U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine. “Many who have never had coverage before now have coverage.”

In Maine, whose population is the oldest in the country, nearly half of the enrollees were in the 55-64 age bracket, the third-highest percentage in the United States. The health care law hinges on more young people buying insurance, but Maine health experts said they aren’t concerned about the large number of older enrollees in the first three months of the marketplace.

The marketplace is where individuals who don’t qualify for Medicaid – many self-employed or part-time workers – can buy subsidized insurance.

Like Kamegni, many recent immigrants don’t know that they are eligible for coverage under the law, said Libby Cummings, an outreach coordinator at the Portland Community Health Center.

Cummings has helped hundreds of people sign up for insurance, and she planned to tell Kamegni about his eligibility Monday after his appointment was completed. Kamegni, who speaks limited English, said he fled Cameroon in 2012 and is applying for political asylum.

Asylum seekers, while in the United States legally, are not permitted to work immediately and are not eligible for Medicaid.

Immigrants aren’t the only ones who don’t realize they are eligible for coverage until they are told by health center employees.

“A lot of people don’t know that they qualify for (insurance) and haven’t even thought about it yet,” said Meg Clews, a nurse practitioner at the clinic. “They’re still figuring out how the system works. I’m still figuring out how the system works.”

Leslie Brancato, executive director of the health center, said the clinic anticipates a surge in patients so it is adding two nurse practitioners to meet the demand.

“We’re experiencing much faster growth than anticipated,” Brancato said. “We have a lot of requests for new patient appointments.”

In Maine, the number of sign-ups could more than double by March 31, the end of the 2014 enrollment period, said Mitchell Stein, public policy director for Consumers for Affordable Health Care, a health advocacy group.

Stein said it’s just an educated guess at this point, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see enrollment on the marketplace reach 25,000 to 30,000 in Maine.

Wendy Wolf, president and CEO of the Maine Health Access Foundation, a nonprofit that is helping to publicize the Affordable Care Act, said the numbers are good news, especially considering the computer glitches that prevented people from signing up when the marketplace went online in October and the limited advertising for the insurance.

“I would say 13,700 is a pretty amazing figure. People are desperate to find affordable health insurance,” Wolf said.

Kevin Lewis, the head of Maine Community Health Options, one of two insurers on the marketplace in Maine, said the enrollment “exceeded expectations.” He said 80 percent of the Mainers who shop on the marketplace are choosing Maine Community Health Options’ plans.

(Continued on page 2)

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