AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — About 270 Maine residents successfully signed up for health insurance plans on the troubled federal website in the first month of open enrollment, health officials said Wednesday.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the highly anticipated enrollment figures for healthcare.gov, which has been plagued with problems and glitches since open enrollment began last month and prompted criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike.
The report shows that more than 3,500 Maine residents submitted paper or electronic applications on the insurance policy marketplace, a key part of President Barack Obama's federal health insurance overhaul. They submitted plans on behalf of nearly 6,500 people, such as themselves, their spouses and children.
Mitchell Stein, policy director for Augusta-based Consumers for Affordable Health Care, said that while he wishes the numbers were higher, he isn't surprised. He said he anticipated that many people would use the first month to view their various options before purchasing a plan, especially because coverage does not kick in until Jan. 1.
"We don't know the number of people who have set up an account or people who've started to do their research," he said. "That's really what the first month, and even a big part of November, is going to be for — people doing their homework, if you will."
The state estimated that as many as 250,000 residents, including about 130,000 uninsured, could use the marketplace where Maine Health Community Health Options and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield are offering coverage. But the state says fewer people are expected to enroll as many will choose plans off the exchange or remain uninsured.
Maine is one of the 36 states relying on the problem-filled federal website instead of running a state-based marketplace, also called an exchange. In those states, the administration says fewer than 27,000 Americans in those state managed to enroll.
States running their own enrollment systems had slightly more success, singing up more than 79,000, for a total enrollment of more than 106,000.
Libby Cummings, the outreach and enrollment specialist at the Portland Community Health Center, where Maine residents can get help signing up for coverage, said the number of people she's actually enrolled in plans is in the single digits. Due to the website's problems, she's been using primarily paper applications to sign up people, and those take a while to get processed, she said.
But more people seem to be having success with the website — even in the past 48 hours, she said.
"I feel extremely optimistic as of yesterday and today in terms of what this week will look like and next week," she said.
But critics say that the low enrollment numbers are not just a result of the website's glitches, but some of the larger issues in the health care law.
Joel Allumbaugh, the director of the Center for Health Reform Initiatives at the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center, said people are finding that premiums are more expensive and plans are less robust than they expected.