Are Maine’s Obamacare enrollment totals inflated too?

A man looks over the website. REUTERS|Mike Segar

A man looks over the website. REUTERS|Mike Segar

Obamacare took another gut punch today with news that its often touted enrollment totals erroneously included dental plans. This comes in the wake of more bad news for the health reform law, including a Supreme Court challenge that could undercut its critical insurance subsidies and contradictory comments made by Obamacare consultant and MIT economist Jonathan Gruber.

Today’s news boils down to this, as Bloomberg reported: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services included nearly 400,000 dental plans in recently reporting insurance enrollment under the Affordable Care Act for 2014. This helped the Obama administration to exceed its goal for 7 million sign-ups. Federal officials didn’t distinguish between medical plans and dental plans, a shift from previous practice that they failed to publicize. The move also partly obscured the loss of more than a million consumers who signed up for medical insurance but failed to follow through.

So the correct national enrollment total is actually 6.5 million, not 7.3 million.

HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell Tweeted this Thursday:


House Republicans insist that HHS was attempting to hide the real enrollment figures, which fell below the administration’s target.

So what does this mean for Maine’s ACA enrollment total? Not a whole lot.

According to HHS, 44,000 people in the state enrolled through in 2014. These are Mainers who buy their own health insurance, rather than get coverage through work or government programs like Medicaid.

Maine Community Health Options signed up about 80 percent of those 44,000 people, but the Lewiston-based insurer didn’t offer dental insurance for 2014 (though it will for coverage taking effect in 2015.)

Anthem sold dental insurance through the federal health insurance marketplace, but just a modest number of plans in Maine. The company counted 903 enrollees as of the end of May, according to the Maine Bureau of Insurance. Plus, that figure potentially includes people who enrolled in those plans outside of, a group unrelated to the inflated totals.

The only other company that sold these standalone dental plans in Maine through in 2014 was Delta Dental. Delta counted 1,383 enrollees as of May 30, according to the state insurance bureau.

The number of enrollees in the Anthem and Delta plans could have changed since May, since consumers with special circumstances (getting married, losing a job, etc.) can enroll anytime of year, but probably not by much.

All in all, the highest potential number of dental plans wrongly included in Maine’s ACA enrollment total is 2,286. That amounts to a 5 percent overstatement of Maine’s 44,000 reported total — nothing drastic but also nothing to ignore.


Jackie Farwell

About Jackie Farwell

I'm the health editor for the Bangor Daily News, a Bangor native, a UMaine grad, and a weekend crossword warrior. I never get sick of writing about Maine people, geeking out over health care data, and finding new ways to help you stay well. I live in Gorham with my husband Nick and our hound dog Riley.