The state is considering changing its online application for MaineCare benefits, an official said Wednesday, a day after questions were raised about why it asks applicants whether their children were conceived in Maine and why an absent parent left the home.

“We are evaluating the language and may adjust the information in order to be more clearly understood,” John Martins, spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, wrote in an email response Wednesday to questions from the Portland Press Herald.

A single mother from York County complained to the newspaper Tuesday after encountering the questions while applying online for MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

Maine is the only state in New England that asks those two questions on Medicaid applications, according to a survey of state health officials by the Press Herald.

Martins said the information is needed if there’s a dispute or a question over child support or paternity, because the answers may affect benefits. For instance, if a parent who does not have custody of his or her children has health insurance, the children are required to be on that parent’s insurance, even if the parent with custody qualifies for MaineCare.

And if a child was conceived in another state, it may be up to that state, not Maine, to determine paternity, Martins wrote.

However, the application on the Maine.gov website does not refer to child support or paternity, nor does it explain why the questions are asked, beyond a vague reference to the applicant being allowed to opt out of answering if the applicant was abused.

Martins said the questions must stay on the application, even though the wording might be different or more explanation might be provided.

“As information is integrated within our systems, our goal is to streamline the process for the applicant, so they don’t have to fill out a separate form or visit the office if they are using the online tool to apply for public assistance,” Martins wrote.

The same website can be used to apply for other public benefits, such as food stamps and General Assistance.

The MaineCare application asks whether the applicant’s child was conceived in Maine and, in a scroll-down menu, asks the applicant to indicate why the other parent left the home: “unwed parenthood, death, divorce, separation, incarceration” or other reasons.

New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island do not ask those questions on Medicaid applications, said officials from those states.

Terry Smith, director of New Hampshire’s Division of Family Assistance, said the state doesn’t ask on Medicaid applications where a child was conceived or why a parent isn’t living in the home because it’s not relevant to the application.

If there are questions about paternity or child support, he said, it’s up to the child support enforcement staff to handle those issues, which may subsequently affect public benefits.

Martins cited examples of similar questions being asked in other states, such as Virginia, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Missouri and Minnesota, but the forms that Martins referred to are child support enforcement applications, not Medicaid applications.

Among those child support enforcement forms, the questions asked of applicants vary. For instance, while all ask about paternity, North Carolina and Missouri inquire about conception, but Virginia, Minnesota and Massachusetts don’t.

The online MaineCare application has been available for about two years. Applicants also can print out forms and mail them in, but those are different questionnaires and do not ask about conception or reasons why a parent left a home.

However, Martins pointed to a supplemental form that is sometimes mailed to applicants for MaineCare or other public assistance and does ask about conception and reasons why it’s a single-parent household. The questions may also be asked over the phone, Martins wrote.

“Oftentimes … we call the applicant and ask the questions directly,” he wrote.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

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