Ahead of the state’s expected expansion of MaineCare early next year, a Bangor area group is urging newly qualified Mainers to sign up for the federal health coverage program soon, ahead of a possible torrent of applications.
To help them, Bangor Area Recovery Network, aka the BARN, will host a daylong event Jan. 2 to assist people with filling out their applications for MaineCare, the state’s version of the federal Medicaid program.
Gov.-elect Janet Mills, who will be sworn in that same day, has vowed to implement the Medicaid expansion that voters approved at the ballot box in 2017. Outgoing Gov. Paul LePage has refused to implement it.
The sign-up event will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 142 Center St. in Brewer, which is the headquarters of BARN.
Volunteers from Higher Ground Services, a counseling agency in Brewer, will be there to answer questions as people fill out the online applications.
To the Higher Ground staff, “it’s a fairly simple process,” Jim LaPierre, the agency’s executive and clinical director, said. “But to you or I doing it for the first time, it could be confusing. We want people to get all their documents in.”
LaPierre recommends that people fill out their applications as soon as possible, given that tens of thousands may apply for MaineCare under the expanded criteria, taxing a system that is already slow to process applications.
Right now, it can take the state an average of six to eight weeks to process a MaineCare application, LaPierre said, adding that he hopes the Mills administration will take steps that will quicken that pace.
Medicaid is a federal program that’s meant to cover the health care costs for several groups of people, including low-income families and qualified pregnant women and kids. The expansion criteria were approved under the federal Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.
LePage has resisted implementing the voter-approved MaineCare expansion. He also vetoed previous legislative attempts to take advantage of the new federal criteria, arguing that funding some of the program’s costs would burden the state with large amounts of debt.
But early this month, a judge denied the LePage administration’s request to stay an order that the state implement the MaineCare expansion. She also set a Feb. 1 deadline for the state to do the implementation, putting the ball in the Mills administration’s court.
Anyone who thinks they could be eligible for MaineCare is welcome to come to the Jan. 2 event, including people who are seeking medical help to recover from an addiction disorder, LaPierre said.
Under the federal guidelines, which have been approved in at least 37 states, anyone making below 138 percent of the federal poverty line will be eligible for MaineCare under the expansion.
The actual income threshold varies based on how many people live in a household.
In 2018, an individual making less than $1,397 per month or $16,754 per year is eligible, according to the Maine organization Consumers for Affordable Health Care. In a two-person household, that threshold is $1,893 monthly or $22,715 annually. For three people, it’s $2,390 monthly or $28,677 annually. For four, it’s $2,887 or $34,638.
Higher Ground advises people to bring documents to prove their income, such as a copy of their most recent tax return and their past four pay stubs, a copy of their social security award letter, or a copy of a letter that shows the amount of their unemployment benefits.