Maine Grant to Expand Insurance to Direct-Care Workers
Resource type: News
PHI International | [ View Original Source (opens in new window) ]
PHI is an Atlantic grantee.
An $8.5 million federal grant to the state of Maine will expand health coverage to Maine’s direct-care workers. The grant, which was announced on September 3 by Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, will also cover seasonal workers, and is expected to extend coverage to about 3,500 Maine residents. The state is eligible for renewal funds for each of five years, up to a total of $42.5 million.
The grant will fund the expansion of Maine’s Dirigo Health Agency to design and offer a coverage plan starting in January 2010 that will provide vouchers for uninsured direct care who work in large firms (those with more than 50 employees) that offer coverage. The new plan will make that coverage more affordable. In addition, the HHS funds will be used to develop a Dirigo plan specifically aimed at enrolling part-time direct care and seasonal workers who are not offered health insurance at work.
The funding is a boon to the state’s direct-care workers, who for years have advocated for accessible and affordable health care coverage. As in other states, Maine’s direct-care workers, because of low wages, need subsidies to afford their share of the premium for employer-sponsored plans. The new coverage product developed by the grant will address the needs of the estimated one-third of home care workers in Maine with no health insurance because of their part-time status or because they work for small employers who do not offer coverage.
“This is a great victory for the Maine Direct Care Worker Coalition and Maine Personal Assistance Service Association (Maine PASA),” said Carol Regan, director of the PHI Health Care for Health Care Workers Campaign. “For five years, these organizations have been pressing the state to provide affordable coverage for the direct-care workforce.”
The PHI Health Care for Health Care Workers campaign and the Direct Care Alliance provided funding and technical assistance for this grassroots effort by local direct-care workers and advocates. According to Elise Scala of the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service, “Several people contributed to this effort, but the direct care workers the people who provide the essential day-to-day care and support to Maine’s elders and people with disabilities and who were willing to share their personal stories and actively engage with state officialsprovided the leadership that was instrumental to this outcome.”
DCA National Advocacy Director Roy Gedat, a former director of Maine PASA, praised the efforts of local direct-care worker leaders particularly Helen Hanson, Julie Moulton, and Ted Rippy. “While the road has been long, it does go to prove: Persistence pays, and keeping a clear and specific focus on advocacy is crucial,” he said.
“I love the work I do, but it doesn’t pay that well. When I’ve had to go without health coverage, I’ve often worried about getting sick and then having to leave my clients,” said Helen Hanson, who is a graduate of the DCA Voices Institute and sits on the Maine PASA leadership team. “That’s why I am so pleased that the state is going to find ways to offer affordable coverage to direct-care workers.”
Maine’s direct-care workforce-personal assistants, nursing assistants, and personal care and direct support specialists-includes over 22,000 workers, more than the number of RNs in the state. This occupation is also among the fastest-growing, expected to increase by 28 percent by 2016. “Finding coverage options for this workforce is essential to the health and long-term care systems and Maine’s commitment for quality home and community-based services” said Elise Scala.
Health Care for Heath Care Workers, an initiative of PHI, seeks to expand health coverage for workers who provide support and assistance to elders and people living with chronic conditions and/or disabilities. These consumers need a skilled, reliable, and stable direct-care workforce to provide quality services. We believe that one way to ensure a quality direct-care workforce is to provide quality direct-care jobs-jobs that offer health coverage and pay a living wage.
The Direct Care Alliance is the national advocacy voice of direct care workers in long-term care. We empower workers to speak out for better wages, benefits, respect, and working conditions, so more people can commit to direct care as a career. We also convene powerful allies nationwide to build consensus for change.