AUGUSTA, Maine — With the support of a handful of Republicans, House Democrats on Wednesday gave initial approval to a bill aimed at expanding MaineCare coverage to provide preventive and family planning services to low-income women.

The bill — LD 1242, An Act to Expand Coverage of Family Planning Services — was approved 92-48 in the House. The bill would expand MaineCare coverage for women’s health services to women who make up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $23,000 for a single, childless woman.

The women would be eligible for a limited MaineCare benefit, including coverage for services such as cancer screening, annual exams, birth control, sexual health education and counseling and prevention, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. Coverage would begin Oct. 31.

Maine already provides limited coverage for pregnant women who make up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Thirty other states have expanded such services to all women, said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jane Pringle, D-Windham. She said those states have seen huge returns on investment.

Pringle, a retired primary care doctor, said Maine would see more than 1,000 fewer unwanted pregnancies by the third year of the program’s implementation.

“It helps women stay healthy, plan for the future, and access the best care possible,” said another supporter, Rep. Matthea Daughtry, D-Brunswick.

Advocates for the bill, including the Family Planning Association of Maine and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, cite studies that indicate the expansion would save the state could save nearly $2 million in costs associated with unwanted pregnancies by the third year of implementation, and reduce the number of abortions by 350 in the same time frame. Washington would match every $1 of state funding with $9 from federal coffers.

Speaking in opposition of the plan, Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, called the measure a “huge expansion” of the state’s Medicaid program, and echoed her arguments against the broader Medicaid expansion effort that has dominated debate in the Legislature this session.

“Anybody above 100 percent of the poverty level does have access to private health insurance plans [through online exchanges], which do include coverage for these services,” she said.

The bill faces additional votes in the House and Senate.

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and,...