FALMOUTH — There’s a war on the poor in Maine, and it’s getting worse. Besides proposed budget cuts in Augusta in General Assistance, health care and food assistance and the possibility that Congress may gut the Affordable Care Act, now there’s something else.

The state Department of Health and Human Services, which includes “compassion” as one of the core values in its mission statement, wants a waiver from the federal government in order to drastically restrict its Medicaid program, known as MaineCare.

Among the changes are requirements that the able-bodied poor work for their health coverage; pay premiums for their health coverage; pay $20 for an emergency room visit if they’re not admitted; and pay $20 if they miss a doctor’s appointment – even if their transportation is unreliable or they can’t find child care.

The effect would be devastating to many of the 270,000 recipients of MaineCare. It is unclear exactly how many would be affected, but it is expected to be thousands.

We at the Maine Council of Churches, which also includes “compassion” in its mission statement, say “Enough is enough.” Already, 40,000 have been taken off the MaineCare rolls; we don’t need more people punished and humiliated because they are poor.

Our nine member denominations are grounded in the Christian belief that we must care for the impoverished, the outcast and the stranger – for all our brothers and sisters. We are Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Swedenborgians, Unitarian Universalists and members of the United Church of Christ. We have 550 churches and congregations among us.


Making it increasingly difficult for the poor to obtain medical care is unconscionable and violates the moral principles that are at the core of our faith.

Past administrations have not allowed states to force poor people to work for health care benefits, but advocates for the poor are concerned that could change under the Trump administration. Other states are watching the outcome of requests by Maine and Wisconsin, the first two states to apply to the new administration under the Section 1115 waiver provision in the federal Medicaid Act.

Earlier this year, we worked with Maine Equal Justice Partners, a secular nonprofit organization that advocates for the poor, to alert state legislators about the effect of proposed cuts to General Assistance and food assistance programs and to express to Maine’s congressional delegation our opposition to repealing Obamacare.

But despite the dramatic impact of the Section 1115 waiver, it does not need approval of elected officials – unlike budget cuts and the fate of Obamacare in Congress. All that is needed is approval from the federal agency governing Medicaid.

Waivers are supposed to be used like pilot projects that are likely to promote the objectives of the Medicaid Act: helping states provide medical assistance to residents who can’t afford the health care they need. Instead, it appears that Maine’s proposed DHHS waiver will create barriers that reduce access to timely and appropriate health care for thousands of Mainers struggling to make ends meet.

As part of the application process, the DHHS is holding two hearings, one in Portland on Wednesday at the Cross Insurance Arena on Spring Street, and one Thursday in Augusta at the Augusta Civic Center on Community Drive. Both will begin at 9 a.m.

It is particularly important that decision-makers be aware of the real-life experiences of Mainers who have already dealt with issues that are being addressed: struggles with the work and community engagement requirements for other benefit programs; visits to emergency rooms with serious illnesses that did not result in a hospital stay; and doctor appointments that were missed because of unreliable transportation or lack of child care.

We urge readers to attend the hearings or submit comments to the DHHS by May 25 in order to show their opposition to these proposed cuts, even if they aren’t on Medicaid. Clergy will be gathered in prayer outside the hearings as a prophetic reminder of the faith community’s commitment to the poor, as exemplified in these words from Christian Scripture: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”


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