Senate unanimously enacts Sen. Hickman bill to help retired Maine state employees access health care coverage

Posted: June 22, 2023 | Labor and Housing, Senator Hickman

AUGUSTA — On Tuesday, the Maine Senate unanimously passed a bill sponsored by Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop. LD 591, “An Act to Require the State to Pay Medicare Premiums for Certain Retired State Employees,” closes a loophole that prevented the State of Maine from covering health care benefits to state workers who began working prior to 1986 and were forced onto a federal health care policy because of a spouse or ex-spouse.

“With initial approval of this bill, we are one step closer to reaffirming the state’s commitment to honor its obligations and fulfill its responsibilities towards retirees hired before 1986,” said Sen. Hickman. “If the state made a promise to provide lifelong health care benefits to these retirees, it must uphold its word with utmost integrity.”

“I fully support this legislation,” said Hon. Joyce Maker, former State Representative and Senator from Calais. “The state told employees they would pay our insurance for life. Evidently that changed and said we would have to apply for Medicare and if we weren’t eligible they would pay for it. Some of us that spent the majority of our lives working as a State employee were not eligible for Social Security but our spouse was. That resulted in us having to pay for our Medicare benefits, not the State.”

“This bill was initiated when Sen. Hickman and I learned of a constituent who, because she was eligible to receive social security benefits and thereby Medicare under an ex-spouse’s work history, was disqualified from receiving the full benefit promised to her through her State of Maine retirement benefits,” said Rep. Tavis Hasenfus, D-Readfield. “Through this bill we are asking this committee to bring equity to this situation by fulfilling our obligations and paying the premiums individuals in this situation are forced into paying.”

Maine state employees hired before 1986 were promised health insurance coverage through a state plan. In 1986, the state began participating in Medicare, and all state employees hired thereafter paid into Medicare. A small pool of state employees who had been hired before 1986 fell through the cracks during this transition and were forced onto Medicare because of the eligibility of spouses. For some of those employees, this resulted in them paying for Medicare benefits out of their own pocket, often costing them thousands of dollars a year. This bill aims to fulfill the state’s original promise to state employees hired before 1986.

The bill faces further votes before the Senate and the House.