The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Monday rejected significant parts of Gov. Paul LePage’s plan to eliminate health insurance for thousands of families in Maine.
“The LePage administration has been determined to eliminate access to health care for thousands of Maine families,” said Sara Gagne-Holmes, executive director for Maine Equal Justice Partners, which advocates for low-income families. “The U.S. Department of Health and Human has rightly rejected major parts of his plan as illegal.”
In letters dated Jan. 7, 2013 the federal government denied the LePage administration’s request to end MaineCare insurance coverage for low –income 19- and 20-year-olds. The department also rejected ending MaineCare for working parents whose income is less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
“The Obama Administration did the right thing in requiring that coverage be continued for many needy Maine families,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. “Especially in this weak economy, now is not the right time to pull the rug out from under people who are struggling to get by.”
While Health and Human Services rejected two of the requests, they allowed the LePage administration to move forward with two others, which will deny prescription drug coverage and access to health care to the elderly, adults with disabilities and to a second group of working parents with incomes between 133 percent of the federal poverty level and 200 percent.
“We expected federal officials to give the state permission to end coverage for adults making more than 133 percent of the poverty level but I’m very disappointed that the LePage Administration will be allowed to reduce coverage for over 5,000 seniors and disabled Mainers,” said Pingree. “We should be working to find ways to get coverage for more families, not fewer.”
Pingree had written to federal officials arguing the “maintenance of effort” portion of the health care reform law passed by Congress ensures that states are required to maintain existing Medicaid programs until new health insurance exchanges open in 2014. Pingree wrote to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius last summer urging her to protect coverage for parents with incomes between 100 percent and 133 percent of the federal poverty level, 19 and 20 year olds and seniors and people with disabilities.
“AARP Maine is deeply concerned about the impact the CMS-approved cuts to the Medicare Savings Program (MSP) will have on elderly and disabled people who even now are barely making ends meet. Cuts made to critical programs such as the MSP should not come down to line items in a budget,” said Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director. “Older and disabled Mainers, many of whom are already struggling to pay fuel and food costs, must have access to their life-saving medications. Cutting the MSP will be nothing short of devastating for many of Maine’s at-risk residents.”
The LePage administration claimed that the state faced a budget deficit forcing the Federal Government to grant the request.
“The LePage administration has pursued policy choices that have led to the budget deficit. They then used that deficit to justify cuts that will hurt the health and security of thousands of people,” said Gagne-Holmes. “There were better alternatives that the governor ignored in his pursuit for this outcome.”
It is estimated that about 14,500 working parents and 6,500 19- and 20-year-olds were protected by the federal ruling. Another 14,000 adults and 5,600 seniors and people with disabilities will lose coverage.
“The federal government has given conflicting opinions on whether or not the law allows coverage to be dropped for seniors and adults with disabilities,” said Gagne-Holmes. “We are looking to the federal government to clarify its inconsistent statements and make the case that coverage should continue for some of our most vulnerable neighbors.”
Maine Equal Justice Partners is a non-profit legal aid organization that works to find solutions to poverty.