Community health clinics struggle with impact of MaineCare cuts

Patients who lost coverage are showing up at clinics across Maine, and the cost of treating them with little or no reimbursement is creating financial problems.

At the Portland Community Health Center, patients pack into a small waiting room to see harried doctors and nurses for primary care services such as vaccines, checkups and to acquire antibiotics for infections.

Increasingly, the patients do not have MaineCare – the state’s name for Medicaid – and are instead uninsured, leaving the health center facing a financial crunch that if not addressed would threaten the clinic’s existence. 

That’s because the dollars-and-cents difference for the clinic between seeing a MaineCare patient or an uninsured patient is dramatic.

From uninsured patients, who pay on a sliding scale based on their income, the clinics would typically receive about $10 or $20 per visit. But if the patient has MaineCare, the state would reimburse the clinic about $150 to $200, depending on what services are provided. MaineCare is a state-run health insurance program for low-income residents funded with a blend of federal and state dollars.

Although it’s not clear whether the administration will support the request, LePage’s proposed two-year state budget would devote more money to primary care reimbursements, providing more than $15 million a year to offset federal cutbacks. David Sorensen, Maine Department of Health and Human Services spokesman, said the agency had no comment on the issue because it has not yet received a formal funding request from the clinics.

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