The expansion of eligibility for Medicaid, or MaineCare as it is known here, was approved at referendum in November 2017 and finally implemented early this year in one of the first acts by Gov. Janet Mills. It was expected to grant health coverage to as many as 70,000 childless adults, many of them square in the demographic groups hit hardest by addiction, allowing them to access drug treatment they could not previously afford.
So far, however, just 26,000 Mainers are covered under Medicaid expansion, according to a report this week from the Associated Press. In some areas where the opioid epidemic has been particularly deadly, signups are low — in Hancock County, only 865 residents out of a projected 3,000 have enrolled, the AP reports; in Cumberland County, only a third have.
That’s bad news. But given Maine’s history with Medicaid expansion, it’s not a complete surprise. After it passed at the polls, then-Gov. Paul LePage refused to implement it, leaving Gov. Mills to play catch-up. Still, thousands of Mainers now have health care coverage they didn’t before, and with the new data in hand, officials can better focus on the regions where enrollment has underperformed.
The real problem when it comes to addiction is that once enrolled, people who need treatment still may not be able to find it. While MaineCare expansion may make treatment affordable, it doesn’t necessarily make it available — and there are still not nearly enough spots available for everyone who needs one.