At least 25 Mainers who are newly eligible for Medicaid have applied for health insurance under the expanded program this month, and hundreds more have gone online to determine whether they qualify for coverage under the voter-approved law.

It is unclear, however, whether anyone who signs up will obtain insurance because the LePage administration has balked at implementing the expansion, citing the lack of a sustainable funding source.

Maine Equal Justice Partners, an Augusta advocacy group that has sued the LePage administration for failing to implement the expansion, is urging people to sign up and has created an online screening tool to help.

“We are encouraging people to apply because, even though they will not get coverage right away, they will protect their rights to coverage and qualify for retroactive coverage to the first of the month in which they apply,” Robyn Merrill, executive director for Maine Equal Justice Partners, said Monday.

She said the screening tool under the new expansion category includes information on who is eligible, how to apply and how to protect the right to coverage. The group also has launched a hotline that people can call for help enrolling.

“We are getting this information out through the health centers and organizations working with people who may be eligible,” Merrill said.

She said that as of last week, 486 people had used the screening tool, and about 25 have used Maine Equal Justice Partners to help them sign up directly. People can use the screening tool and sign up themselves for Medicaid without assistance, so it’s difficult to tell exactly how many people have applied.

“No one has been denied yet, at least to our knowledge,” Merrill said. She said the state has 45 days after people start enrolling to either accept or deny the enrollee. If no decision is made, the enrollee is supposed to get temporary coverage.

Emily Spencer, a spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said the department would have no comment on Medicaid enrollments, citing the pending legal case.

Voters approved Medicaid expansion by a 59-41 percent margin in 2017, but Republican Gov. Paul LePage has refused to implement the expansion, arguing that the Legislature needs to adequately fund it. LePage vetoed a funding bill, and the Legislature failed to override the veto in a July 9 vote.

LePage has consistently opposed Medicaid expansion, arguing that doing so would be financially disastrous for the state. In June, he said the Legislature’s $60 million funding bill contained “unsustainable budget gimmicks,” and he vetoed it.

Meanwhile, according to the law that went into effect this year, enrollment should have begun by July 2. About 70,000 Mainers will gain health insurance when the state implements expansion.

About 273,000 Mainers have Medicaid, and the expansion would broaden eligibility to anyone earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $16,700 a year for a single person or $34,600 for a family of four.

The court case is pending before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which heard arguments last week. Merrill said a decision by the court soon could help determine what happens to people who have enrolled in the Medicaid expansion.

She said the actions by the LePage administration are merely delaying tactics and will not stop expansion from occurring.

“It’s not a question of whether people will get coverage. It’s a question of when,” Merrill said. Donna Wall of Lewiston, one of five people identified in the lawsuit as being someone who would benefit from Medicaid expansion, said she filled out paperwork July 3. Wall told the Portland Press Herald that she thought she was denied by DHHS, but Merrill, who was familiar with Wall’s case, said her application is still pending.

Wall, who is uninsured, said she has $64,000 in medical debt from breaking her ankle late last year. She had to quit her job as a newspaper carrier, and she is a caregiver for three disabled adult children.

Wall doesn’t like how LePage has characterized Medicaid recipients as being undeserving of health care coverage. She suspects LePage will delay expansion until the new governor takes office in January.

Democrat Janet Mills, Maine’s attorney general, is running to replace LePage, as are Republican businessman Shawn Moody and independent candidates Terry Hayes, the state treasurer, and Alan Caron, an economic development consultant, in the fall election.

“I’m not lazy,” Wall said. “I work 24/7 and I have bill collectors calling me all the time. I am basically doing a job for free.”

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: joelawlorph

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.