A series of cuts to MaineCare—Maine’s Medicaid program—will go into effect today , affecting the healthcare coverage of nearly 20,000 people statewide. Governor Paul LePage proposed the cuts late last year. 

Early this year the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) approved cuts for “the optional group of parents and caretakers” previously covered. It also approved reducing the MaineCare eligibity threshold of poor Mainers from 150 percent of the federal poverty level to 133 percent. In addition, the new cuts reduce benefits for elderly Mainers who are otherwise able to recieve coverage through Medicare.

“These cuts are not easy decisions because they do involve real people,” LePage wrote in a press release last year.

These changes result in $4 million in savings for the state. 
LePage’s initial proposal included much more significant cuts totalling $20 million, which would have eliminated 19 and 20-year olds from the program entirely. However, HHS denied these changes.

“The states have a certain level of flexibility in terms of what optional services they offer under Medicaid. Some states have been traditionally more generous than others,” said Professor of Government Andrew Rudalevige.

Maine has previously been among these “more generous” states. According to the Boston Globe, Maine is one of the few states to provide Medicaid benefits for impoverished childless adults. This will no longer be the case come January 2014, when another series of cuts go into effect.

Maine Equal Justice Partners (MEJP), an Augusta-based firm, announced on February 21 that it would be suing  HHS, on behalf of five plantiffs, arguing that these cuts are illegal.

“By granting Maine permission to reduce eligibility, the Secretary of Health and Human Services has violated the law by cutting health care benefits for people with disabilities and for low-income seniors,” wrote Jack Comart, the litigation director of MEJP, in a February press release. “Those actions are unacceptable.”

Maine is one of 14 states that have announced that they will not accept an expansion to Medicaid that is part of the new Affordable Care Act, informally known as ObamaCare, which will go into effect in 2014.

“The cutback against the original program is going to look more dramatic, I suspect, put up against the new program some states will be implementing,” said Rudalevige. 

Weighing in on these recent changes, local residents had mixed feels towards LePage and his recent policy change.

“LePage does not represent my thinking. I don’t think there should be cuts to any of the programs that society needs,” said Marcia Paulen, of nearby Lisbon Falls.

“I’m using Medicaid and it’s scary to think it might be cut. It’s not a good thing,” said Brunswick resident Tom Quinn.

“I do like Governor LePage. I think he’s doing the best job with what he walked into,” said Terry Phillips, of Brunswick. “Cuts have to be made.” 
Rudalevige was uncertain how these cuts would play in the governor’s upcoming reelection bid.

“It becomes very quickly an argument about how to frame those actions, and a lot of it will depend on the national economy, and whether Maine feels like it is being lifted on a rising tide,” said Rudalevige.

“There is some residual sympathy [in Maine] to the idea that you shouldn’t be relying on these sorts of services,” he added. “You should be working your own way through. The notion of the New England rugged individualism is alive and well and that plays in the governor’s favor at some level.”

-Joe Sherlock contributed to this report.