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Maine ACA Group Stops Short of Recommending Medicaid Expansion
12/09/2013   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

While the federal goverment is continually trying to improve the new health insurance marketplace Web site, a group in Maine is also trying to ensure the marketplace works well. Today the Health Exchange Advisory Committee approved its final recommendations for the state. As Patty Wight reports, the consensus is to ensure that as many Mainers as possible have health insurance, but not necessarily through an expansion of Medicaid.

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Democratic Rep. Sharon Treat says she's proud of the 18-member committee, which includes Democratic and Republican lawmakers, insurance company representatives and consumer advocates.  All unanimously approved the committee's recommendations, including the need for everyone in Maine to have access to affordable health coverage.

"And what we acknowleged in our report is one thing that's on the table, and it could be done right now because it's funded and it's part of the law, is the MaineCare expansion," Treat said.

"My understanding is Medicaid an option? Sure. It's not one I would support, but it is an option, of course," says Republican committee member Mike McClellan.

McClellan says expanding MaineCare - the state version of Medicaid - would actually be the biggest fiscal mistake in Maine's history. He cites DHHS projections that, despite the fact the federal government would foot most of the bill, the expansion would still cost Maine $150 million by 2020.

Other recommendations by the committee were less contentious, such as applying for federal grants to hire more navigators, who help people sign up for insurance on the online marketplace. Legislative analyst Colleen McCarthy Reid pointed to data showing the availability of navigators for 77 of the largest towns in Maine. But when it comes to rural parts of the state, the nearest navigator is often at least 15 miles away.

"And you can see there are several service center towns where there are none listed," says Kevin Lewis.  Lewis, of insurance company Maine Community Health Options, says even where there are navigators, many are not available.

"Some of these towns, the navigators are already booked up in terms of their in-person appointments, all the way through the end of the year," Lewis says. "So effectively there's zero access for someone looking for coverage as of Jan. 1."

Applying for a grant to hire more navigators will ultimately be up to the LePage administration, which Rep. Treat says did not take previous recommendations to apply for grants.

"We are hopeful that with the addition of people who are on the stakeholder group, which included representatives of the brokers, representatvies of the insurance companies, a whole variety of people, that perhaps the administration would take another look at that issue," Treat says.

The committee will present a final report to the Insurance and Financial Services Committee by Dec. 15, and will continue to monitor the insurance marketplace though next year.



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