Mar 5, 2014

Refusal to Expand Medicaid Harms Mainers Living with Mental Illness

Many TOA Mental Health Clients Lack Access to Treatment and Long-term Care

For Immediate Release


CONTACT: Jim Gemmell, The Opportunity Alliance



For Immediate Release – March, 2014

(Portland) Recently, a young woman in her twenties came to The Opportunity Alliance through our crisis services programs. She has been diagnosed and living with a serious mental illness for many years and has had addiction disorders for various substances since she was 11 years old. She called our crisis line because she was suicidal. She knew that she needed treatment for her mental illness and was ready to undertake the hard work of recovery from her substance abuse. Our mobile crisis team helped to stabilize her situation for the short-term, to connect her to resources. We admitted her to Broadway Crossings, our short-term therapeutic, crisis stabilization unit for adults experiencing a mental health crisis. Broadway Crossings is an alternative to expensive hospitalization. While we were able to stabilize her immediate situation, the real problems for this young woman began when it came time to release her from Broadway Crossings. There was no way for her to pay for continuing treatment of her co-occurring mental health and substance use disorder. She lacks health insurance of any kind and is not eligible for Medicaid under the current criteria. Her situation is further complicated by a serious health issue for which her only treatment option, and only when her pain is unbearable, is the emergency department of a Portland hospital.


The very tragic irony of this young woman’s story is that just a few miles up the road in Augusta, a handful of state legislators and our governor have the power to stop her downward spiral, but she, like so many Mainers living with untreated mental illness will lose out on access to health care if Governor LePage and his allies in the Legislature refuse to accept a Republican-led compromise proposal to cover 70,000 Maine people.


“Many of the people who come to us for help are in crisis because a manageable mental health issue was neglected when they didn’t have access to treatment,” said Mike Tarpinian, President and CEO of The Opportunity Alliance.  “Treatment and care of their mental illness, as well as primary care, are out of reach for lack of insurance for many of our clients. Short-term and expensive emergency department treatment is their only option.”


If the compromise measure does not pass, 21,000 Maine people with mental illness and substance abuse conditions will lose out on health coverage, according to a new report from the American Health Counselors Association.  According to the report, 45% of uninsured Mainers with mental health conditions would receive health coverage if Maine expanded Medicaid. This includes people who struggle with substance abuse, have serious mental illness, or are in serious psychological distress. The young woman whose story we have detailed here is just one of those individuals who would be covered under the expansion.


For more information on any aspect of this story, please contact: Jim Gemmell, Director of Communications: 207-523-5014,