Stephen Eiseman would have qualified for the expanded Medicare Savings Program, which helps low-income seniors save money and would give them about $7,300 per year. But the expanded program was never implemented, and now Gov. Janet Mills’ administration wants to repeal it. Eiseman, 84, might be forced to sell his mobile home if the program doesn’t go through. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Stephen Eiseman said he was expecting hundreds of dollars in extra income this year in his monthly Social Security checks – money he said he needs to keep his mobile home in Alfred.

The additional money was the result of a state law expanding eligibility for what’s known as the Medicare Savings Program. The law was passed by the Maine Legislature and signed by Gov. Janet Mills and was set to go into effect on March 1.

But the Mills administration hasn’t implemented the law, and is now proposing to roll back provisions that would have provided extra income to older Maine residents like Eiseman, who is 84.

The Maine Center for Economic Policy, a left-leaning research organization, estimates about 45,000 Mainers who would have been eligible to receive thousands of dollars per year would no longer qualify for additional benefits if the Mills administration’s new proposal becomes law.

Mills administration officials counter that the program is already among the most generous of its type in the United States, and that eligibility would still be expanded to help thousands more Maine people.

Eiseman said he has been counting on the extra money to help cover the rising cost of rent for his mobile home lot, as well as other expenses that keep going up.


“I just don’t understand how they can give you stuff and then take it away,” said Eiseman, a retired furniture salesman whose wife, Elizabeth, died last year. “That money would be enormous, like a million bucks to me. Everything has gone up – car insurance, home insurance. You can’t live. I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do.”

The Medicare Savings Program helps low-income seniors by reducing or eliminating out-of-pocket costs for premiums, deductibles, co-payments and coinsurance. For instance, the Medicare Savings Program pays for the Part B premium – which is usually deducted from Social Security income. While Part B is an optional Medicare program, it pays for a lot of common outpatient services, screenings and exams.

The law increased eligibility from those earning 185% or less of the federal poverty level to people earning up to 250% of the federal poverty level, or as much as $36,450 for an individual. There are also improved benefits for people who earn between 150% and 185% of the poverty level. The law also eliminated an asset test that excluded some from accessing benefits.

Benefits vary, but typically amount to $7,300 annually for an individual, said Jessica Maurer, executive director of the Maine Council on Aging.

“People have already been told that they are eligible,” Maurer said. “They’re waiting and planning for that money. There are people who are going to be harmed by this and the (Department of Health and Human Services) seems completely unmoved by that.”

The Mills administration is now proposing to expand eligibility to people earning as much as 202% of the federal poverty level instead of 250%, leaving out thousands of older Maine residents who thought they would qualify.



House Republican Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, bashed the Mills administration for wanting to scale back the new law.

“The bill passed through the Legislature with Republican support. Unfortunately, much like the senior property tax freeze, this is a program to help seniors that is now being rolled back by Democrats who want to spend on other priorities,“ Faulkingham said.

Sharon Huntley, spokeswoman for the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, said that “we recognize the value of the Medicare Savings Program, which is why we will continue with a partial expansion.”

Huntley said the elimination of an asset test in January is expected to add 3,000 people to the program this year. The asset test had excluded Maine people from the program if they had more than $58,000 in liquid assets.

Huntley said expanding eligibility for the savings program to people earning 202% of the federal poverty level will likely add about 4,000 people to the program.


Huntley said with projected “flattening revenues in the next biennium, we are pursuing the difficult decision to partly implement the expansion and reconsidering it in the next biennium after a review of the revenue forecast.”

But Maurer said expanding to 202% of the federal poverty limit is the “minimum” that Maine could do and would still leave thousands of older Mainers in the lurch. And while expanding to 250% and giving additional benefits to those earning between 150% and 185% of the federal poverty limit would cost the state $14 million, it would draw down $38 million in federal funds, she said.

“That’s a pretty good deal and a significant return on investment,” Maurer said. “That’s money coming into the Maine economy.”


Maurer said the expansion is an “economic justice” issue because many of the people who now qualify are low-income older women, who are “two times more likely to live alone and with less money because of economic disparities.”

“This is an administration that has been so proactive in supporting the health of Maine people, but not older people? I don’t get that,” Maurer said.


But Huntley said that with previous expansions of the program and the scaled-back proposed expansion, “more older Maine residents will have coverage for Medicare cost sharing under the Mills administration than under any prior administration.”

According to KFF, a national health policy research organization, Maine is tied with Indiana for the third-most generous eligibility criteria for the Medicare Savings Program, behind only the District of Columbia and Connecticut. Most states cut off eligibility for those who earn more than 100% of the federal poverty level, or about $15,000.

Eiseman said he’s waiting to hear what happens at the State House, even as he’s being overwhelmed by increased costs everywhere he turns.

“Soon I won’t be able to afford to be here,” Eiseman said. “When you’re on a fixed income and you’re seeing 30% to 50% increases, I can’t afford that. I’ve been working since I was 12 years old, so this kind of sucks.”

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