(The Center Square) – Maine has received final approval from the federal government to operate its health care marketplace, which will offer residents access to a range of health plans.
Gov. Janet Mills called the move "an important step" that will give Mainers more options to buy Affordable Care Act insurance through the state's health care exchange system.
"Federal approval means Maine can capture funding currently going to Washington, D.C. and use it to customize the enrollment process to fit our state’s needs," said Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Until now, Maine has been offering its state health insurance plans through the federal web portal, healthcare.gov, which was created in 2013 to cover residents in the 36 states that at the time hadn't set up their own exchanges.
Beginning Nov. 1, the state will allow residents to shop and enroll in health plans through its own online system, CoverME.gov, according to the Mills administration. Those plans will provide coverage beginning in 2022.
More than 85,000 residents are currently eligible to get their health care through the state's marketplace, but the Mills administration says that number is likely to grow.
Maine health officials said they are planning a marketing campaign to raise awareness about the new marketplace and let consumers know their options for purchasing health plans.
The open enrollment period will be from Nov. 1 to Jan. 15, 2022, but consumers must enroll by Dec. 15 for coverage beginning on Jan. 1, according to the Mills administration.
Those who want to keep their current health plans will be automatically re-enrolled.
Maine will join 15 other states that already operate their own health care marketplaces through a state-based online system, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Those include neighboring Massachusetts and other New England states, with the exception of New Hampshire, which offers health care coverage through the federal marketplace.
The American Rescue Plan Act, a pandemic relief bill approved by Congress earlier this year, allows more people to qualify for financial assistance to help pay for health insurance.
Nearly a quarter of Maine residents who enrolled in the exchange this year are paying $10 or less per month for their state health insurance, according to the Mills administration.
Health care officials say they expect to see an increased number of people buying coverage off the state's new marketplace.
"The state-run Marketplace is one of the most important steps Maine has taken in providing individuals a strong avenue to gain coverage and, thereby, remove one barrier to seeking care,” Barbara Leonard, president and CEO of the Maine Health Access Foundation, said in a statement. "It is also an important milestone in the continued journey toward equitable care for all people in Maine."