Obama Official Briefs Maine Panel On ACA Implementation 

A top advisor to President Obama briefed lawmakers and healthcare experts in Augusta Monday, giving them an update on how the health care exchange under the Affordable Care Act is working for Mainers looking to enroll.

Members of the the Health Exchange Advisory Committee got to ask questions of Christie Hager, the Obama administration’s top health and human services official for New England, specifically about the problems facing people who are trying to sign up on

People across the country have struggled through long waits and other glitches in the website. Hager addressed the committee by phone and spoke about what’s being done to fix those problems.

“The demand on the website is evidence of the fact that there are so many people who are in shopping mode right now,” Hager said. “There’s no date certain for repairs except to note that this has been a round-the-clock effort ever since the early days in the demand on the website and the technical issues that those have uncovered.”

There also appears to be a shortage of people referred to as “navigators,” who help guide people through the maze of choosing a health insurance plan. In Maine, there’s only 8 navigators statewide. Hager told the committee at this time there’s no plan to provide more navigators for Maine.

The committee heard from representatives from other organizations, like the Maine Primary Care Association, who try to help people determine what they’re eligible for. They have Certified Application Counselors on staff, but with only 5 hours of training, they’re not always able to answer every question.

“I think as any of us know that have tried to select an insurance plan know, it’s very complicated and it ends up getting very personal very quickly,” said Caroline Zimmerman from the Maine Primary Care Association.

Ann Woloson from Maine Equal Justice Partners told the panel her organization is hearing from a lot of folks who are currently on Mainecare but are slated to lose that coverage on January 1. But there are some out there who are happy with the new system.

“We have heard from a couple of people who are very excited. They feel like they’ve won the lottery,” Woloson said. “They’re uninsured, they currently have healthcare needs, they’re buying prescription drugs spending $100 a month. They call us and it looks like they’re eligible for subsidies.”

If people are experiencing long wait times, they’re advised to wait awhile before trying to access the website again to allow time for the traffic to the website to calm down. In order to get coverage beginning January 1, you must be signed up by December 15.