LEWISTON — With just five weeks left in a shortened open enrollment period, U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, on Monday urged Mainers to seriously consider their health insurance options, including insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace.
“Health care saves lives, but health insurance also saves lives,” King told about two dozen people at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston on Monday.
The ACA, also known as Obamacare, was signed into law in 2010. It made sweeping changes to health care, including requiring insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions and pay for preventive care. It also required most Americans to have health insurance and it created a federal health insurance marketplace, also called an exchange, through which people could buy that insurance and receive subsidies to discount the cost.
Open enrollment used to last for three months for individuals and families who buy their own insurance. This year, it will last six weeks, from Nov. 1 to Dec. 15. The federal marketplace site, Healthcare.gov, will also be down for maintenance most Sunday mornings during open enrollment, limiting the time people have to explore or sign up for insurance.
Although President Donald Trump has said he will end ACA insurance subsidies, those payments go to insurance companies. Insurers are still required by law to discount their plans for poor customers, which means qualified Mainers can still buy insurance for less than the sticker price. Some will get it for free.
King has been publicly encouraging Mainers to look at their options. On Monday he toured CMMC and hosted a news conference to get the word out.
King repeated a story he often shares when talking about health insurance. In 1974, doctors discovered a life-threatening skin cancer on his back. It was found during a routine physical that he received only because he had insurance that covered it.
“If I hadn’t had that coverage with that physical built in, those of you who are in the medical profession know that malignant melanoma is something that you either catch in time or you die. It’s that simple,” he said. “Because it was caught, because I had health insurance, here I am today.”
King acknowledged the ACA has its problems, including high and rising insurance costs for people who don’t qualify for subsidies. It is, he said, something he has been working on with a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
“That’s a gap, that’s a problem, and it’s one we’re attempting to remedy,” he said.
In the meantime, he said, those who do qualify for subsidies may find insurance “amazingly affordable.”
“You’ll be surprised,” he said.
King, like all members of Congress, gets his health insurance through the ACA marketplace. He estimated that it takes an hour or so to examine the options online and sign up.
“The message today is if King can figure this out, so can you,” he said. “This is something that everyone in Maine who has even a remote thought that ‘Gee, maybe I ought to get coverage, maybe it would be important for my kids or the rest of the family,’ now is the time. And it’s a short time.”
He encouraged Mainers to speak to experts who can help guide them through the process, such as navigators and certified application counselors.
Free local help can be found through Enroll207.com or by calling 1-800-965-7476.
U.S. Sen. Angus King, right, says hello to Ed and Sheila Desgrosseilliers of Auburn while touring Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston on Monday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
U.S. Sen. Angus King, center, talks with Kristine Chaisson, RN, left, and Darlene St. Hilaire, RN, about mental health care at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston on Monday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Central Maine Healthcare CEO Jeff Brickman, left, welcomes U.S. Sen. Angus King to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston on Monday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)
Central Maine Healthcare CEO Jeff Brickman, second from left, talks with U.S. Sen. Angus King, third from left, during a tour of Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston on Monday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)