Why are Obamacare signups going so much worse in Maine than three other New England states?

In Maine, fewer than 300 people chose an insurance plan through the health care marketplace.

This low number, just 271, came after 3,550 completed applications. Dividing yields a completion rate of just 7.6%.

(These figures come from p.10 of a federal government report.)

Yet, as the chart below shows, some of Maine’s fellow New England states had much higher rates of completed applications.

[source of chart]

Vermont stands out, since 40% of applicants completing sign-ups. But Connecticut and Rhode Island also beat Maine’s low, low rate.

 Now, why would that be?

Well, the most likely reason is pretty simple. Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island all chose to operate their own on-line insurance marketplaces.

In contrast, Gov. LePage put aside work that had begun in the Baldacci administration and decided that Maine wouldn’t control its site. Instead, he chose the one to be set up by the federal government.

Now the federal marketplace is a mess.

Getting individual insurance through Obamacare was supposed to be a shopping experience like buying an airline ticket.

Research shows that completing the application just starts a process that takes time. People usually don’t pick a policy right off. Instead, they go back to the website multiple times and ponder their options. When the website isn’t easily accessible, their decision-making is stalled.

But the truly awful federal website has made signups difficult and slow. Fixing it is a key administrative focus and health reporters say the site is getting better.

In Maine, as in other states using the federal website, it’s been a frustrating experience.

Mainers who haven’t had insurance or who will be changing insurance plans haven’t been able to easily check their options and find out what subsidies they will receive.

There is still time for Mainers to pick plans. As I’ve previously discussed, initial signups in Massachusetts for Romneycare were quite slow. That happened even with a good website.

Assuming the federal website gets fixed, signups should get much better, particularly if people hear about success stories and get help navigating the process.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.