Last year, the Maine Legislature increased eligibility for the Medicare Savings Program, which saves older people money on their Medicare costs. These changes will help tens of thousands of older Mainers meet their basic needs and stay healthy. This action is good for older Mainers, good for working families and good for our economy.

The Medicare Savings Program saves qualifying members on Part B Premium costs, a $2,000 saving, and also saves lower-income members on their Part D Premium, savings of another $5,300. While Maine is a leader in using MSP to address financial insecurity, this new eligibility brings us in line with Massachusetts and Connecticut.

The Legislature took this action because it knows older Mainers on fixed incomes are struggling to get by while costs for food, fuel, housing, utilities and health care are skyrocketing. In making this decision, they considered findings from a 2022 Cutler Institute report on the Economic Status of Older Women in Maine. This report found that older women are less likely than older men to have enough money to meet their basic needs. The report points to lower pay for similar work, low pay for “women’s work” and Social Security penalties for leaving the workforce to raise children and care for aging relatives as reasons why women are economically disadvantaged later in life. Due to discrimination based on race and gender, women of color are twice as likely as white women to experience economic insecurity later in life.

While the new eligibility levels went into effect March 1, the state has failed to implement these changes. Gov. Janet Mills proposes cutting them from the supplemental budget because they haven’t been implemented. This is akin to your boss giving you a raise, failing to increase your wages, and then cancelling the raise nine months later because it wasn’t implemented.

This is not just an analogy. Over the past nine months, hundreds of older Mainers have been screened for eligibility for MSP. Those who didn’t qualify but will under the new law have been told to reapply in early March. Many of these people have been anxiously awaiting the much needed financial relief this will bring.

These cuts are bad for Maine people and take Maine’s economy in the wrong direction. Increased eligibility for MSP increases the economic stability and physical health of older Mainers, including grandparents raising grandchildren, grandparents providing free child care to working parents, volunteers who deliver and enhance all kinds of services in Maine, and workers who have part-time jobs. This is an investment that also pays big dividends. While the increased eligibility costs Maine $14 million, it would yield $38 million in federal dollars, dollars that should flow into Maine’s economy.

At the same time the governor proposes cutting eligibility for the Medicare Savings Program, her administration – through L.D. 299 – is pursuing statutory changes to implement new increased eligibility for the Children’s Health Insurance Program and for young adults for MaineCare. The Legislature wisely passed these increases in 2022, but they weren’t allowable under federal law. As it should have, the administration took extra steps to implement the new eligibility levels. Shouldn’t children, young adults and older people all be entitled to increased access to health insurance in Maine if it keeps them healthy, helps working families and grows our economy?

Cutting Medicare Savings Program eligibility will harm older Mainers who desperately need help and are waiting for relief. The Legislature got it right last year when it decided that the health of older Mainers was as important as the health of our young people. We applaud our legislators, and ask them to act quickly to reject these cuts and direct the state to act immediately to implement the new eligibility levels.

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