Four months after Gov. Janet Mills expanded Medicaid, nearly 19,000 low-income Mainers have signed up, and it’s estimated that another 50,000 are eligible.
Expansion of the program ended a yearslong battle that began in the Legislature and ended in court, after former Gov. Paul LePage refused to implement the voter-approved law.
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Donna Wall of Lewiston is the primary caretaker of her 20-year-old twin boys with severe autism. She had been waiting for coverage — and now has it — and she isn’t alone.
“They’re adults, right? But they function as a 2-year-old. Because I have to bathe them, shave them, cut their hair, wipe their butts — I do everything for them,” she says.
By the time her boys get dropped off from a day program in the midafternoon, Wall has already set out their snack, which they devour. She also puts away the boots they’ve kicked off in the middle of the floor.
When her boys were younger, Wall had health insurance under MaineCare, the state version of Medicaid. But when they turned 18 and officially became adults, she lost her coverage. During that time, Wall was uninsured, and she slipped and fell on ice while delivering newspapers and broke her ankle.
“And I have like $50,000 in medical debt that I can’t pay. Just because of not having any insurance,” she says.
Wall says she doesn’t know what to do about her medical bills. But now that Medicaid is expanded, she at least has coverage again, and she says that gives her some comfort.
“I can go get a medical checkup and I don’t have to feel like a bag lady or something,” she says.
While Wall had to contend with a catastrophic event when she was uninsured, Hilarie Baker of Wales had to manage a chronic condition. She has diabetes, and says during the past 18 months when she didn’t have insurance, she relied on a hospital discount program to buy insulin for $50 a month, but it was still unaffordable.
“It was basically begging off people as much as I could, as much as I dared. And then, before it became too desperate, I started rationing,” she says.
Baker says she applied for MaineCare coverage several times after it was supposed to go into effect last summer, and finally received approval in February.
“It was just such a relief. I was so happy,” she says. “I did a little dance in the middle of the room.”
Parris Cayer-Leary, 29, of Biddeford, says his new coverage under MaineCare expansion opens up his budget for things like school and, eventually, a car. He has epilepsy and previously had insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace. But he says the copays, premiums, and prescription costs consumed much of his paycheck working in fast food.
“So many other things that I haven’t been able to afford that I need that that money can go to. And I can feel like I’m not risking my health,” he says.
Tricia, who asked that we not use her last name, also hopes that her new coverage under MaineCare will help bring balance to her life. She says she has thyroid issues and environmental and chemical allergies that put her in a perpetual brain fog.
“I’m an editor, and sometimes it just takes me forever to do something that should take a really short amount of time. I can’t call up a word. I can’t remember to put a comma here or not. So, it’s really difficult,” she says.
Tricia says she qualified for free basic health care through a hospital program while she was uninsured. But now that she has MaineCare, she’s able to see a provider she’s wanted to see for years: Persis Hope, a functional nurse practitioner at MaineGeneral’s Thayer Center for Health in Waterville.
Tricia thinks Hope will be able to address the underlying causes of her health issues.
“They look at your emotional state, they look at trauma you’ve had in your life. They look at what you eat, they look at how you sleep, what your mental attitude is and put it all together to try to get to the root cause,” she says.
Now that she has insurance, Tricia says she’s hopeful she’ll be able to feel better and move forward.
The Mills administration expects to enroll all of the estimated 70,000 Mainers eligible for the expanded Medicaid program by the end of the year.
Originally published April 29, 2019 at 5:39 p.m. ET