Maine healthcare advocates applaud legislative victories
Over 200,000 Mainers will now be eligible for dental treatment under the Medicaid program. Patients can get an emergency supply of insulin that will be capped at $ 35 per month. Direct care workers will receive a higher salary for the home services they provide to people with disabilities and the elderly.
But flavored tobacco products will still be legal. And bills that attempted to control the cost of prescription drugs were opposed by Gov. Janet Mills.
These are some of the major results of action on health care issues in the current session of the Maine Legislature.
A long-awaited priority for health care advocates – extending Medicaid benefits to include dental coverage for adults – has been enacted.
But despite the Democratic majority in the House and Senate, Mills used his veto over two progressive-sponsored measures bills to control the cost of prescription drugs.
“I am frustrated that even though we have a Democratic legislature and governor, we are not addressing the root cause of many problems, and that is how expensive health care is,” said Mitchell Stein, a Independent health policy analyst based in Maine. “They have accomplished certain things. It is important to note that the adult dental benefits of Medicaid are enormous and will in fact help improve the lives of many people. “
Another measure, a possible ban on flavored tobacco products, failed when it did not receive funding.
DENTAL BENEFIT FOR MEDICAID
Maine was one of 14 states that did not extend Medicaid coverage for adult dental services. Children who have Medicaid also have dental coverage, but dental insurance for adults is a voluntary benefit under the Medicaid program, which is a federal program funded by a mixture of federal and state dollars, but administered by the states. .
The expansion will open access to more than 200,000 Maine residents, but based on usage in other states, approximately 70,000 Maine people will use the new benefit.
The law will cost the state $ 4 million per year, with the federal government providing an additional $ 12 million per year. In 2012, a study found that Maine spent $ 17 million on emergency room visits for dental care. Emergency room spending on dental services is expected to decline sharply after the new benefit goes into effect on July 1, 2022, following a three-year effort by health service advocates.
“It’s a little overwhelming to think how much this will change the lives of so many people for the better,” said Kathy Kilrain del Rio, director of campaigns and healthcare advocacy for Maine Equal Justice, a progressive political group. “People will have access to things normally associated with dental care, cleanings and cavities, and if necessary root canals and other restorative work. “
Del Rio said untreated dental infections can worsen patients’ medical problems. The long trail to implementation – one year – will give the Mills administration time to set up a reimbursement system and resolve other logistical issues before people on Medicaid can begin subscribing to the drugs. benefits.
Democratic lawmakers, including Senate Speaker Troy Jackson, lobbied for a series of bills that attempted to bring down the cost of prescription drugs.
But Mills vetoed two of the most ambitious bills: one from Jackson that banned price hikes and another that tried to curb prices by requiring drugmakers to justify price increases.
In her veto message, Mills said she shared lawmakers’ concerns about the cost of prescription drugs, but did not believe both bills were constitutional.
The bills “would not survive constitutional scrutiny, invite costly and protracted litigation, and even if unexpectedly upheld by the courts, would not have the intended effect of drastically reducing drug prices for patients. citizens of Maine, ”Mills wrote.
Mills has signed other prescription drug bills, including a move by Senator Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, that requires people without insurance or who can show they have trouble paying for their insulin to buy a 30 day emergency supply. for $ 35.
FLAVORED TOBACCO PRODUCTS
A proposal to ban flavored tobacco products that reportedly cost around $ 32 million was unfunded at a meeting last week of the Joint Standing Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs, drawing a reprimand from Rebecca Boulos , executive director of the Maine Public Health Association.
Boulos said lawmakers “have played politics with people’s lives.”
“At a time when millions of dollars were added to the rainy day fund, there was no investment in smoking prevention and control. Nothing. Not a dollar more to prevent smoking among young people, ”Boulos wrote in a June 30 press release.
While public health advocates decried the failure of the flavored tobacco ban, those who support services for adults with developmental and developmental disabilities applauded a bill that improved reimbursement rates.
For the first time, reimbursement rates for direct care workers – such as those who work in group homes or provide home health services – are expected to be above and stay above the minimum wage, even though the minimum wage is increased in future years. The law, which will come into force in January, stipulates that the reimbursement rate must be at least 125% of the minimum wage for services.
Ray Nagel, executive director of the Independence Association in Brunswick, which operates 10 group homes that serve 38 people, said the rate increases “will help tremendously” although there are many reasons for the labor shortage. ‘work, so nonprofit organizations that operate group homes struggle to attract workers.
“People can still get jobs that pay a lot more elsewhere, but it still really helps our staff,” Nagel said. “We will take our victory.
Another bill that was passed extended Medicaid coverage for pregnant women for 12 months after birth. Currently, services are interrupted 60 days after the birth of the child, but postpartum coverage will increase to six months from January, nine months from July 1, and increase to 12 months from 2023.