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Federal regulators approve Maine’s Medicaid expansion

April 3, 2019

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Federal regulators have approved Maine’s plan to expand Medicaid, the governor said Wednesday.

The approval by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services was expected but still comes as a relief to thousands of low-income residents who have applied for health care coverage since Mainers voted to expand Medicaid in a first-of-its-kind referendum in 2017.

For those who have already signed up, coverage will be retroactive to the date of sign-up, extending back to July 2, 2018, at the earliest, Democratic Gov. Janet Mills said. That’s true even for those who were wrongly rejected from the program under the previous administration.

“Thank God it’s there,” said Bruce Arral, a prep cook in Saco who received his MaineCare card a few days ago.

Arral, 58, who said he has prostate cancer and polyps in his nose, said it’s “wonderful” that he now has coverage. “I’m scared at the same time because they could take it away so quickly,” he said.

Mills’ GOP predecessor, Paul LePage, had blocked the expansion over concerns it would be too costly and urged federal regulators to reject the plan.

Mills estimates the state will receive $800 million in federal funding through 2021 for the expansion, and her two-year budget proposal provides another $150 million for the state’s share of expansion costs.

“This approval marks the culmination of a long-overdue effort to fulfill the will of Maine voters and help tens of thousands of people access health care,” Mills said. “The benefits of expansion — including this injection of hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funds — will extend to rural hospitals, to businesses, and to our economy as a whole.”

Nearly 60 percent of voters approved the measure. Under the expansion, the state plans to extend Medicaid coverage to roughly 70,000 to 80,000 Mainers with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

“It’s unfortunate that it’s taken this long but we’re pleased,” said Robyn Merrill, the executive director of Maine Equal Justice Partners, one of the groups that led the expansion effort.

Maine has already enrolled 16,797 people for coverage since Mills rolled out expansion on her first day, and her administration says it’s processed all applications dated between July 2 and January 2.

Merrill said groups like hers are also reaching out to people who could be eligible, including those who were turned down by the LePage administration.

“I think a lot of people have been discouraged,” she said.

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