A student enters the COVID-19 testing site at the University of Maine at Farmington’s Dearborn Gymnasium on Feb. 24, 2021. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Maine is still covering the costs of COVID-19 testing and treatment for uninsured residents under a state program after the federal government announced this week that its similar program was out of money.

That means Mainers who do not have health insurance can still get free COVID-19 testing or treatment, or get costs reimbursed, through a program administered under MaineCare, the state’s version of Medicaid, that is expected to run for at least several more months.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Tuesday that it would be halting a program that reimburses health care providers for COVID-19 testing and treatment for people who lack health insurance, citing a lack of funding after Congress did not authorize additional spending to fight COVID-19 in a recent budget bill. Funding to cover the costs of COVID-19 vaccinations for people who are uninsured will run through April 5, the agency said.

Without health insurance coverage, PCR testing for COVID-19 can cost hundreds of dollars, with further costs associated with treatment for those who test positive. But Maine residents who do not have health insurance can apply to have those costs covered by MaineCare under a special program launched in March 2020 before the federal program was running.

The application is a one-page form that can be sent by email, fax or mail to MaineCare. Applicants must attest that they do not have health insurance. There are no eligibility limits based on income or assets.

The state suggests that Mainers apply for the program prior to receiving COVID-19 testing or treatment, but those who are uninsured who are billed for testing or treatment can instead apply for up to three months after they receive the medical services. Health care providers are also encouraged to print the form for patients who may not have computer access. The program also covers the cost of vaccination against COVID-19.

The program will run through the end of the federal public health emergency, which has currently been renewed through April 16, Maine DHHS spokesperson Jackie Farwell said. State officials expect it will last longer, as the federal government has indicated that states will receive 60 days notice prior to the end of the emergency. No such notice has been issued so far.

“We encourage Maine people who are uninsured to submit a simple application for this program,” Farwell said.

As of 2020, roughly 5 percent of Mainers — or about 68,000 people — were uninsured, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit health research organization. That is lower than the national rate of 8.6 percent. Maine’s uninsured rate has dropped significantly since the start of 2019, when the state expanded Medicaid.

COVID-19 transmission in Maine has decreased substantially compared to a few months ago, with just 91 people hospitalized with the virus on Wednesday, down from more than 400 in January. But the virus is still around, with 191 new infections reported Wednesday.

In addition to virus testing through health care providers, Mainers can still order free at-home COVID-19 tests online regardless of insurance status.