By Alex Carter, Maine Equal Justice Policy Advocate
What does it mean for Maine to support immigrants and those seeking a new start and safety from persecution, war, and dictatorship? It’s more than opening our doors – it means ensuring that new arrivals have a roof over their heads, food to eat, the ability to work and support their families, and access to essential healthcare services for their physical and mental well-being. Last year, Gov. Janet Mills and the Maine Legislature expanded MaineCare for income-eligible pregnant people and those under the age of 21, regardless of immigrantion status. That means that starting July 1, 2022, more of Maine’s youngest, low-income residents will be eligible to sign up for affordable health coverage through MaineCare.
If you think you or your child may become eligible this year and you have questions about enrolling beginning in July, please call the Consumers for Affordable Health Care HelpLine at (800) 965-7476. If you believe you have been wrongfully denied MaineCare or have difficulty enrolling, you can also contact Maine Equal Justice at (866) 626-7059. This number includes an option to select your preferred language.
While the expansion of MaineCare to youth and pregnant people is cause for celebration, many immigrant adults still fall into the MaineCare coverage gap and cannot afford the healthcare they desperately need.
There are two opportunities during this short legislative session to right this wrong!
The first is the 2022 Supplemental Budget. Maine has a historic revenue surplus of approximately $1.233 million. A small portion of these funds could be used to extend MaineCare to adults who remain ineligible due to their immigration status, to provide cost-saving and lifesaving preventive, primary, and acute healthcare.
In early March, the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and the Health and Human Services Committee heard from members of the public on LD 1995, the Supplemental Budget bill. Hours of testimony on different parts of the budget included members of the public speaking passionately about the importance of healthcare coverage for immigrants.
The second opportunity to expand health care access for all Mainers is LD 718: An Act to Improve the Health of Maine Residents by Closing Coverage Gaps in the MaineCare Program and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. This bill first appeared last year. If passed and funded, LD 718 would extend MaineCare benefits to immigrant adults, irrespective of their immigration status. Learn more about the bill in our fact sheet, under the “policy/healthcare” on www.maineequaljustice.org.
During last year’s public hearing for LD 718, immigrant community members and advocates told legislators their stories of pain and resilience and the impacts of lack of healthcare coverage on their lives, families, and businesses.
Rosy Ontiveros, a resident of Lewiston who assists others in her community without health insurance explained, “It’s very difficult for all the people who don’t go to the doctor for fear of not being attended to because of lack of ability to pay. …We have many stories of people who have broken bones and, because of not having access to health insurance, they have not sought the necessary therapies needed and the pain they experience is constant.”
Your voice really counts in making sure our neighbors, friends, and family who are immigrants have access to services like healthcare. Legislators need to know that their constituents support them when they do the right thing. To learn more and support LD 718, visit: maineequaljustice.org/get-involved/take-action/.
As Rosa Ontiveros told the HHS Committee, “I trust in you, and I think with your help we can win this.”