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First 500 Mainers approved for coverage under Medicaid expansion

HALLOWELL, Maine — More than 500 Mainers are now covered under Medicaid expansion as Gov. Janet Mills moves to implement the voter-approved law during the Democrat’s first days in office with surplus revenue in a state account.

There are still questions about how Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act will be funded in the long term, but Democrats have made it a top priority after winning the Blaine Houseand majorities in both chambers of the Maine Legislature in the 2018 election.

Maine voters approved Medicaid expansion — which former Gov. Paul LePage vetoed five times — in the 2017 election. Since then, implementation has been delayed because of opposition from the former governor over cost concerns and in a lawsuit between his administration and advocates. A judge ruled last month that it should be implemented by February.

Mills vowed to begin implementing expansion on the first day of her administration and fulfilled that with an executive order directing the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to begin implementation and work with stakeholders to enroll eligible Mainers.

The department said on Thursday that 529 people have had applications accepted in the last week, though more than 8,000 applied between July 2, 2018 — when coverage was supposed to begin under the voter-approved law — and Jan. 4, 2019, the second full day of Mills’ tenure.

That work has included approving initial applications. Lindsay Crete, a spokeswoman for the new governor, said the 529 people deemed eligible under expansion provisions can now see a doctor and receive care that will be paid for by Medicaid.

“One week ago, 529 people did not have the health care coverage that they have today,” Mills said in a statement. “For many of these folks, this has the power to change their lives for the better.”

Maine is still awaiting the federal government’s acceptance of a state application to expand the program, though expansion-related coverage would be retroactive to July 2 if the Mills administration has its way. The state’s Medicaid fund had a surplus of $37.7 million as of June 30, 2018, and Crete said it will be used to fund care through that time this year.

During the court fight, the LePage administration rejected applications citing Medicaid expansion as the reason for applying. Mills told stakeholders at a Thursday meeting in Hallowell that nearly 6,700 applications were denied before Jan. 4.

In Augusta, the debate over expansion will now turn toward funding after the end of the state’s fiscal year on June 30. The Legislature’s fiscal office estimates the state’s share would cost $55 million in the first full year assuming every eligible person signs up immediately.

Mills said Thursday she will work with legislators to fund the law in the upcoming two-year budget she will propose later this month “without tax increases.”

This story will be updated.

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This article originally appeared on www.bangordailynews.com.

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