Maine lawmakers this week voted to set aside $14.1 million to preserve a full expansion of the state’s Medicare Savings Programs, rejecting a Mills administration initiative to roll back the program.

Jessica Maurer, executive director of the Maine Council on Aging, which lobbied for the bill, said that many lower-income, older Mainers were “hanging on” while waiting to see if the program would be included in this legislative session’s supplemental budget.

The Legislature approved the supplemental budget early Thursday morning, and it now heads to Gov. Janet Mills, who is expected to sign it. By refusing to roll back the expansion, lawmakers preserved benefits for about 45,000 newly eligible Mainers, according to the Maine Center for Economic Policy, a left-leaning think tank.

“This is a lifeline, and it will allow them to pay rent, put food on the table,” Maurer said. “It’s critical that they have access to this benefit.”

The Medicare Savings Programs help low-income Mainers – typically those 65 or older who are eligible for Medicare – by reducing or eliminating out-of-pocket costs for premiums, deductibles and co-payments. For instance, the Medicare Savings Programs pays for the Part B premium, which is usually deducted from Social Security income.

Part B is an optional program under Medicare, but many choose to get it because it pays for a lot of common outpatient services, screenings and exams. Medicare Savings Programs benefits can vary but typically amount to $7,300 per year for an individual.


Those eligible will be able to apply for the program in June, with benefits expected to begin on July 1, said Lindsay Hammes, a spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

The Medicare Savings Programs is a federal program, but states have leeway to set eligibility criteria.

Lawmakers approved the program’s expansion in 2023, but the Mills administration refused to implement it, and instead proposed a scaled-back version. But lawmakers during this year’s session insisted on the full expansion in the supplemental budget, increasing eligibility from 185% of the federal poverty level to an upper limit of 250% of the poverty level, or those earning as much as $36,450 for an individual. It also boosts benefits for people who earn between 150% and 185% of the federal poverty level and eliminates an asset test that excluded some from being eligible for benefits

The Mills administration had hoped to limit the expansion to those earning up to 202% of the federal poverty level.

Fran Seeley, of Portland, would be eligible for benefits under the expansion, and she expects to save $170 per month, which will “help me keep up with the continually rising costs of food, property tax, home maintenance and utilities.

“The funding for the Medicare Savings Programs is not just about money,” said Seeley, a widow and former nun and Catholic school teacher. “It shows the Maine Legislature recognizes the value of older Mainers and how financially vulnerable many of them are.”

The new spending will make Maine the second-most generous state in the nation, behind the District of Columbia, for eligibility for the Medicare Savings Programs, according to KFF, a national health policy research nonprofit. Most states cut off eligibility for those who earn more than 100% of the federal poverty level, or about $15,000.

Maurer said the next step is to raise awareness, to “make sure people out there who qualify under the new eligibility levels hear about it” and help them enroll.

“We know a lot of times people will make the assumption, ‘Oh, I don’t qualify for this,’ ” Maurer said. “We want to make sure we are getting help to the people who most need it.”

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