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Asylum seekers and immigrants may soon access MaineCare thanks to this bill

LD 199 would remove exclusions to the MaineCare program for Maine residents currently barred from federal medical programs.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Dozens of people who said they are impacted by the lack of healthcare for immigrants and asylum seekers in the country spoke to the Health and Human Services Committee Tuesday, asking lawmakers to pass LD199, which would remove exclusions to MaineCare.

Currently, only asylum seekers and immigrants under the age of 21 can access MaineCare, or if someone is experiencing a medical emergency.

The bill's sponsor, House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, told the committee that Maine can't wait for federal regulations to change for government-funded healthcare.

"This bill will provide life-altering benefits for the individuals who gain coverage, as well as their families, their communities, and their places of employment," Speaker Ross said. "As we wait for Congress to make the necessary federal reforms to our healthcare system, providing healthcare to our essential workers is something we can do right now."

The bill does not come with a proposed price tag, but estimates from the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center put the number of immigrants and asylum seekers in Maine at around 50,000.

House Republicans opposed the bill in their March 10 minority report, stating it would cost around $7 million.

"The Republican members of the committee noted that Maine is the third highest taxed state, and covering noncitizen medical care with state funds is an obligation that is not responsible," members wrote in the March 10 minority report to the Health and Human Services Committee.

More than 50 people showed out Tuesday to voice their support of the bill. 

"I happen to be an asylum seeker, and therefore it is my heartbeat," Luc Samuel Kuanzambi, a man who came from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2017, said. 

He said his daughter needed a liver transplant, so they came from Nebraska to Maine, where asylum seekers under 21 can get access to MaineCare.

"For many of us, we have been upgraded from misery to poverty. Poverty isn't the place people should stay," Kuanzambi said.

The bill is still awaiting a work session. You can check the progress of the bill here.

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