Within days of Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), led by Mary Mayhew, announced that it would seek the Trump Administration’s help dismantling Maine’s Medicaid system. This week, DHHS is making good on that promise and holding hearings on its request that the federal government “waive” certain Medicaid rules – rules that no administration in the past 50 years has waived – in order to further dismantle health care for Mainers.
Commissioner Mayhew has staked her career on reducing the number of Mainers who can access MaineCare. Under her stewardship, the state has reduced MaineCare’s enrollment by 37 percent, taking health insurance away from approximately 80,000 poor Mainers. Just this year, her department proposed to make poor 19- and 20-year-olds, as well as parents earning more than 40 percent of the federal poverty level (a parent in a family of three earning more than $8,064 per year) ineligible for MaineCare.
Gov. LePage and Commissioner Mayhew want us to think that their proposals are about saving money and prioritizing the neediest among us, as has been their line on all cuts and rollbacks to the social safety over the past six years. However, that rhetoric is empty when we look at the statistics: since Mayhew started at DHHS, Maine’s national health rank has fallen from 10th to 22nd, the number of uninsured children is rising, and Maine’s infant mortality rate has spiked well above the national average (while in most states it is dropping). Whatever we’re doing with the money that is supposedly saved by kicking people off of health care, the data shows that it is not going to our states’ most vulnerable and needy.
And Mayhew and LePage are so hell-bent on this mission, they are asking for a waiver that might not even be legal. The waiver DHHS is requesting, called a section 1115 waiver, is supposed to be for experimental pilots that further the Medicaid Act’s goals of providing health insurance to low-income families. But putting time-limits on health care, lowering asset level caps on Medicaid recipients, and creating more rules that are likely to kick people off of their health insurance in no way support the Medicaid Act’s stated objectives. Instead, this is just another attempt to stigmatize poor people and whittle away at health insurance for our neediest citizens.