Bill would expand Medicare health coverage to all low-income noncitizens

House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, has proposed a bill that would give low-income noncitizens access to public health benefits through the state’s MenCare program — a proposal that’s likely to draw opposition from Republicans , who have proposed to roll back welfare benefits.

Talbot Ross sponsored a similar bill in the previous legislative session, but it died in committee after Gov. Janet Mills included a more limited expansion in her supplemental budget, which extended Mencare benefits to pregnant women and those under 21, regardless of citizenship. Other non-citizens were excluded.

Talbot Ross said in a written statement provided by a spokesperson that expanding health coverage to all noncitizens is an economic and moral imperative to ensure that all Mainers are treated fairly. He said that adequate and affordable health care is a “basic fundamental human right”.

“Regular, predictable medical treatment is proven to ensure that people can go to work, go to school, and take care of their families,” she said. “My legislation seeks to remove barriers, improve outcomes, and ensure that all people are treated with dignity and compassion – regardless of how long they have lived in Maine.”

Advocates say preventive care is less expensive than emergency care and ensuring that all Maine workers, including non-citizens who have a work permit, is important, especially amid state staff shortages.

Democrats controlled both legislative chambers in the previous session as well as the Blaine House, and could pass the bill without Republican support. But such a move would have been fodder for Republicans during an election year where Democrats already face national odds.

Neither Talbot Ross, nor Mills spokespeople answered questions about why Mencare was expanded only to expectant mothers and those under 21. The Office of Family Freedom at the Department of Health and Human Services voted neither for nor against last session’s bill. ,

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for Mills’ position on Talbot Ross’s new bill, LD 199.

Republican leaders of the House and Senate said Tuesday that they had not seen the text of the bill, which has been printed but has not yet been sent to any committee. Instead, he advocated for national immigration reforms, including making it easier for some non-citizens to work and provide for themselves and their families.

“I don’t think our caucus is going to be generally supportive of this idea,” Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, said, adding that he hasn’t spoken to members yet. “I’m all for a safety net for those who need it, but in Maine the safety net has become a snare and we need to move away from that model.”

House Minority Leader Billy Bob Falkingham, R-Winter Harbor, predicted that his caucus would be skeptical about such a bill. But Falkingham said he looks forward to reviewing it to see if it is “sensible and kind” and affordable.

It is not clear how much the expansion will cost. Last season, Talbot Ross estimated it would cost about $8 million, an amount that included the expansion that ended up in the governor’s budget.

According to the National Immigration Law Center, forty states have federal options to cover children or pregnant women living legally, or provide prenatal care regardless of immigration status, or to cover certain immigrants. State funds are used. But it’s unclear how many states cover all noncitizens who would otherwise qualify for Medicaid.

Maine provided public health benefits to non-citizens until 2011, when former Republican Gov. Paul LePage successfully ended their eligibility.

Cathy Kilrain Del Rio, advocacy and program director for Maine Equal Justice, which is part of a coalition advocating for the law, said the bill would essentially restore benefits that were eliminated under LePage, non- Provide citizens with access to preventive health services, such as regular doctor visits and medication.

Under the current system, non-citizens often allow their conditions to escalate to the point where they either go to the emergency room for care, or die, Kilrain del Rio said. That said, serious health problems like cancer or diabetes may be missed, she said.

“It is better for people to have access to preventive care so that conditions can be caught early and often treated with relatively simple methods, rather than having them escalate to the point where people have to go to emergency rooms,” she said. Told. “It’s a more expensive way to treat problems.”

Mufalo Chitam, executive director of the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition, said the bill is needed now more than ever because of the growing number of asylum seekers coming to Maine.

Chitam said that for most of the past year, her organization helped organize twice-weekly health clinics for asylum seekers in Howard Johnson, South Portland. Those clinics highlighted the need for not only preventive care, accompanying people suffering from the effects of untreated diabetes, eye and ear problems, bone fractures, infections and other injuries on the long trip to America, but also follow-up care, she said. Told.

In one case, Chitam said, a mother of two teenage children developed cancer and died.

“By the time it was viewed as an emergency it was too late,” Chitam said. “It really is a matter of life and death.”

Sen. Eric Bracke, R-Auburn, has introduced several bills that would strengthen welfare eligibility. He said that America cannot have “open borders and a welfare state”.

“I think a lot of Maine taxpayers want to make sure that the Social Security net is going to people who have paid into the system,” Brecky said.

Rep. Deka Dhlack, D-South Portland, is one of eight co-sponsors of the bill. He said the health coverage would ease the burden on asylum seekers and other non-citizens as they pursue their asylum claims and access work permits, so they can contribute to society. Even non-citizens who work – such as in home health care or in hotels and restaurants – are not always guaranteed access to health care.

“As a social worker, I think it’s our responsibility as human beings to take care of our communities, our neighbors, and these are some of the people who are really doing a lot of work,” she said. . “They don’t want to do handouts. They want to work. They want to contribute to the economy or just to the country and the state, and we are just providing a small stipend for their health and well-being.

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