January 11, 2013

MaineCare budget cuts loom over thousands

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Shirley Jackson, 68, seen Thursday in her South Berwick apartment, says she can no longer earn money other than her Social Security income or she will be dropped from Medicaid rolls because of financial eligibility requirements. She says while she feels lucky compared to others who will be cut, her income leaves little room for even modest extra spending.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer


The Maine Department of Health and Human Services will review all current MaineCare cases for Medicaid eligibility and send letters later this month notifying members of any changes in benefits.

For information about planned Medicaid reductions, call (800) 977-6740, TTY 711.

Changes in the Medicare Savings Plan or Drugs for the Elderly will vary from person to person. For more information about those programs, call (800) 442-6003.

Jim Burns, 52, is another Medicaid recipient who fears that he may lose some or all of his health care and drug benefits.

A former customs broker who lives in Amity, near Houlton, Burns has been disabled since 2008 by recurrent cellulitis, circulation problems and other complications from diabetes.

Burns isn't sure how his Medicaid coverage will be affected; he, too, was told that a letter explaining the future of his benefits will be mailed at the end of January.

John Martins, Mayhew's spokesman, confirmed that the letters will go out later this month.

What Burns knows is this: His monthly $1,332 Social Security check and $16 food stamp allowance won't cover the bill if he has to go to the hospital again, as he did last summer, for 16 days at an estimated cost of $1,000 a day.

If he doesn't get regular medical care for wounds that don't heal and other health issues, he'll wind up in the emergency room.

"It's not smart health care," Burns said. "It's penny-wise and pound foolish. It doesn't save the state or anyone anything."

Shirley Jackson, 68, counts herself lucky compared to others who face potential Medicaid cuts. She called a state information line and was told that she likely won't lose her coverage.

That's because Jackson, who lives in South Berwick, recently lost a part-time teaching job that generated about $1,400 in income last year -- a little more than $116 per month.

Now, faced with making ends meet on her monthly $1,244 Social Security check, Jackson expects to squeak under the state's reduced income eligibility guidelines for seniors and disabled Mainers.

But she'll have little financial wiggle room each month after she pays the rent on her subsidized apartment and all of her other regular bills, leaving about $200 a month for food, clothing, prescription and medical co-payments, gasoline, car repairs and other living expenses.

The prospect has Jackson feeling trapped and defined by federal poverty guidelines that say she can no longer earn more than $15,638 per year -- 140 percent of the poverty level.

Like Dunlop and Burns, she gets $16 a month in food stamps, which she augments with visits to the local food pantry.

"There's a certain amount of dignity I wish I could keep," Jackson said. "I manage, but there's a terrible price to pay."

Jackson, who is college educated, made career sacrifices and used her retirement savings to raise two daughters by herself. Now, without a part-time job to pay for extras, she won't go to movies or occasional lunches out with friends.

And she has given up hope of visiting her daughter in Atlanta anytime soon. They haven't seen each other in nearly three years.

"I was using that job to breathe," Jackson said. "Now, if I earn just $61 a month on a regular basis, it will push me over the income limit and I will lose everything. If I ever find another job, I really can't take it or I'll be punished."


Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:


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