Lawmakers hear hours of testimony in favor of removing immigration status as a barrier to MaineCare
The bill, sponsored by Democratic House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, would reverse a rule put in place under former governor Paul LePage barring many immigrants from enrolling in the state's Medicaid program, even if they meet the income eligibility guidelines.
Glenda Machado was one of many people to testify in favor of the bill during and hours-long public hearing before the Health and Human Services committee on Tuesday.
Speaking in Spanish through an interpreter, Machado, who lives in Portland and works in the hospitality industry, told lawmakers that, without MaineCare, she avoids going to the doctor when she's sick.
"Most of the time I stay home and stick it out," she said. "It causes so much stress to think about the bills I might get that I would rather suffer and stay at home."
Joby Thoyalil, with the Maine Business Immigration Coalition, told lawmakers that removing barriers to MaineCare is a matter of fairness to immigrant workers, many of whom are employed in frontline industries including agriculture and home health care, and would benefit the state as a whole.
"It is both the right thing to do for those who are currently left behind," he said, "but also because it's an investment in our future workforce and economy."
Others submitted testimony opposing the bill, saying the state should focus on caring for U.S. citizens before extending access to immigrant residents.
State representative Kathy Javner of Chester, the ranking Republican on the Health and Human Services committee, said in a statement that “Democrats are not willing to support a much needed tax cut for Maine citizens, but are more than willing to support spending millions more of our money on expanding MaineCare coverage to non-citizens.”