Published Date Written by David CarkhuffMedicaid recipients in Maine are receiving some bad news in the mail.
In the past week, recipients of roughly 20,800 letters from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services received confirmation that they would lose Medicaid benefits due to state budget adjustments made in the previous session.
The letters, which went out late last week and early this week, warn that, effective March 1, recipients will no longer be eligible for benefits due to cutbacks in the state's MaineCare program, the state's version of Medicaid.
In a back-and-forth with the Obama administration, state officials learned early this year that the federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services had approved Maine's plan to eliminate benefits for parents from 133 percent to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, as well as a 10 percent reduction to eligibility categories in the Medicare Savings Programs.
The reduction to 133 percent of the federal poverty level for parents will affect 12,592 recipients, though about half may be eligible for transitional Medicaid benefits for up to 12 months, the Maine DHHS reported. The state will save more than $3.2 million from the change, the agency reported.
The changes in the Medicare Savings Plan will affect 8,250 people, Maine DHHS reported. Roughly 2,600 of these individuals will no longer be eligible for any benefits under MSP or Drugs for the Elderly, the agency reported. These reductions will save nearly $800,000, and more than 80,000 Mainers will continue to receive coverage under MSP, according to Maine DHHS.
Member services staff at Maine DHHS are answering calls at 800-977-6740, and DHHS issued its toll-free number of 800-442-6003. The phone lines have been busy.
"We are getting a lot of calls," said John A. Martins, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. "The folks that are working in the call center are extremely busy."
Maine DHHS set up a call center to respond to questions from recipients of the letters and "to look at their current situation, whether they would be eligible to continue their coverage under any other Medicaid program," Martins explained.
"Certainly people are displeased, they're very concerned. We're doing our best to look at their situations," he said.
Recipients falling below 150 percent of the federal poverty level may be eligible for transitional Medicaid benefits, he said.
And for recipients of Medicare Savings Plan seniors coverage, "everybody's case could be different," Martins said.
Maine had been covering parents up to 200 percent of poverty level, even though 100 percent is the federal standard, Martins noted.
"We petitioned the federal government to cut back to that 100 percent mark, and the feds approved us cutting back to that 133 percent mark," he said.
"These were decisions made based on our state budget and the need to reduce expenses within our state budget," Martins said.
An estimated $663 million in federal stimulus funding that was used to close the Medicaid gap in Maine is now gone, Martins said.
"It created a huge cost shift back to the states," he said.
Maine also had asked to reduce coverage for parents to 100 percent of the federal poverty level and to eliminate eligibility for 19- and 20-year-olds, but those requests were not approved by CMS. Those changes, according to the federal agency, do not comply with certain requirements in the Social Security Act, as amended by the Affordable Care Act.
In early January, Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said Maine’s generosity in the Medicare Savings Plan program had been unmatched nationally, with just one state and the District of Columbia offering to pay premiums and other costs beyond the federal minimum.
“Clearly, these changes will be difficult for those who are impacted,” Mayhew said in a press release. “I commend the legislature for having the courage to make needed changes in the structure of Maine’s Medicaid program to help establish firmer financial footing that will protect the state’s safety net.”