(Illustration by Greg Kearney)
(Illustration by Greg Kearney)
Last week, Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew sent a letter to Congressman Tom Price (R-GA), President Trump’s nominee to be the federal DHHS secretary, requesting that the administration grant waivers to allow Maine to reduce eligibility for thousands of low-income Mainers receiving health care coverage through MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

“In planning for Maine’s future, our focus needs to remain fixed on the disabled and elderly in our states,” wrote Mayhew. “To make serving them properly a reality, we need a commitment from the federal government that we can tailor our program to best serve our state.” 

Mayhew asked for a waiver to implement work requirements for MaineCare recipients, which she said would 

be similar to the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families requirements that forces beneficiaries to work between 20 and 30 hours a week. Mayhew also asked for permission to impose a 60-month lifetime cap on receiving MaineCare and to reduce services in the non-emergency transportation (NET) program, which provides transportation for thousands of low-income seniors and individuals with disabilities. 

Mayhew’s plan would limit the MaineCare ride service   for only required Medicaid services, which could exclude trips to purchase medication and therapy appointments. In the midcoast, MaineCare rides are offered through the Mid-Coast Connector in Belfast. Mayhew also requested that the feds give Maine the flexibility to tighten MaineCare ride eligibility guidelines, to increase out-of-pocket costs for people on MaineCare, and to allow the state to submit MaineCare recipients to stricter asset tests.

Christine Hastedt, a policy analyst with the low-income advocacy group Maine Equal Justice Partners, noted that most of Mayhew’s waiver requests have been denied to other states in the past. 

 


“I think that the law prohibits [the LePage administration] from getting most of the waivers [Mayhew] is asking for,” said Hastedt. “The question is how will [the Trump administration] interpret [the Medicaid] law and ...  how will a court respond to that action? The whole fundamental purpose of the waiver is that it has to be consistent with the purpose of this law, and the purpose of this law is to ensure that people get access to health care so that their health is maintained and they can be productive.” 

Gov. Paul LePage has also proposed a budget that would eliminate health care coverage for about  5,800 young adults and roughly 20,000 to 40,000 low-income parents. 

Medicaid Expansion Referendum Gathers Signatures

Meanwhile, activists announced last week that they had delivered more than 67,000 signatures to the Secretary of State to place a referendum on the November ballot to require the state to accept federal money to expand MaineCare for roughly 70,000 low-income Mainers. A similar measure has been proposed several times in the Legislature, but has been blocked by Gov. LePage. In a press release, Kathy Phelps, a self-employed hairdresser from Waterville, said she has had to go without the oxygen she needs for respiratory problems after the governor kicked her off of MaineCare a few years ago.

“I feel it every day. I’m tired and I often have a hard time breathing,” said Phelps. “Sometimes at night I can’t breathe. It’s terrifying, but I can’t afford the $100 a month for oxygen.” But she added, “Mainers are good people. We take care of one another, and that is why I believe so many people signed these petitions. I don’t think Maine voters will let politics stand in the way of health care for 70,000 of their friends, family and neighbors.”