Leandro Moya Lara, who is homeless, is tested for COVID-19 in a program administered by the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, during the new coronavirus pandemic, Thursday, April 16, 2020, in Miami. The Homeless Trust is targeting the senior population for testing, and is offering housing to those who test positive. Credit: Lynne Sladky | AP

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The state’s Department of Health and Human Services will now cover coronavirus testing for uninsured patients until Maine’s current state of emergency ends, according to a Tuesday update sent to health care providers.

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills has already required all private insurers to cover testing costs, which includes doctor visits and copays, as well as requiring coverage through MaineCare, the state’s version of Medicaid. Many private insurers had moved to do so beforehand and Community Health Options in Lewiston — the state’s only health co-op that provides plans under the Affordable Care Act — is also covering testing.

[Our COVID-19 tracker contains the most recent information on Maine cases by county]

Tuesday’s announcement will allow providers to bill testing costs for uninsured people to MaineCare. That coverage does not extend to treatment for the virus, which as of Tuesday has sickened 1,477 Mainers since first detected in the state in March.

States were allowed to cover testing for uninsured individuals through Medicaid when the Families First Coronavirus Act was passed in March. Federal funding will cover the cost of that testing.

The coverage is retroactive to March 18, and a person who was tested has up to three months to apply to have those costs covered, according to MaineCare application instructions. A person must be a Maine resident who is not eligible for or enrolled in MaineCare or another health care program funded by the federal government.

The measure could prove critical for catching additional cases as Maine begins to allow retailers and restaurants to reopen and expands testing. A March study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found cooks, sales workers, cashiers, wait staff and cleaning employees were among the occupations with the highest numbers of uninsured workers in 2018.

That analysis suggested that uninsured individuals may forgo testing or medical care for fear of having to pay steep out-of-pocket costs.

Up to 221,000 Maine residents may lose their employer-provided health insurance due to the pandemic, a recent study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute found. About 77 percent of those individuals are predicted to seek coverage through Medicaid or other insurance options, but the rest may not seek coverage at all.

The state is also seeing increased enrollments and applications for the state’s safety net programs, including record-high numbers for expanded MaineCare.

Watch: Janet Mills announces partnership to triple testing capacity

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