MaineCare Expansion Heats up, But DHHS Mum

By Ruth Leubecker

 

Although MaineCare expansion remains firmly entrenched in the public eye, official reactions from other quarters signify foot-dragging and procrastination.

Medicaid (known in Maine as MaineCare) expansion was resoundingly affirmed by voters in November. Yet months after the fact, 80,000 Mainers are still waiting for their insurance coverage. 

Many attempts to contact DHHS have met with virtually no success. Neither Comm. Ricker Hamilton nor Scott Perkins, his constituent advocate, have returned calls or emails, whether from this reporter or community groups such as Maine Equal Justice Partners or Maine Providers Stand Up for Healthcare (MPSUH).

“The people’s referendum became law on January 3. Now April 3 is the deadline for DHHS to submit a state plan,” says Chuck Radis, DO, and MPSUH chair. “It’s likely that they won’t submit a plan, but we need the media and small-hospital reaction. We’re trying to shine a light on this.”

Radis also feels that a mechanism for Medicaid expansion is not being seriously discussed by the legislature. “There is a sense that although it’s the law they are going to wait until we have a new governor, and the longer legislative session next year,” he says. 

 Many variables continue to cloud the bottom line of the issue. “It’s only my opinion, but I believe funding for Medicaid expansion will be negotiated during the supplemental budget process,” said Rep. Will Tuell last week. “We probably won’t know what that will look like until the end of the session. Just as every other funding bill is decided at the end, this will be one of the last things we tie up before we leave. I know a lot of people want things to be in the budget -- some want money for direct-care workers, some want money for elderly services, the prison, or for bills that have already been passed and are needing funding before they go into effect. It’s hard to say what that final package will look like, but it is also hard to see Medicaid expansion not being part of the mix.”

Aiming for an affordable system which will cover all citizens, a handful of organizations continues to gain momentum. Maine Equal Justice Partners will hold its Countdown to Care on March 27. This will include a citizen lobby day, press conference and lunch in Augusta. MEJP will also be on hand to support MPSUH’s press event on April 3, the date set to coincide with DHHS’s state plan amendment deadline.