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Thursday, 16 November 2017 06:01

Maine Voters Said Yes to Medicaid Expansion -- but the Governor Wants to Block It


lepagepaulTea Party Republican Maine Governor Paul LePage opposes a just-passed voter initiative to expand Medicaid. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

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Although it wasn't widely reported amid the Democratic victories in last week's off-year elections, a big win occurred in Maine for low-income individuals and households that need Medicaid. After years of Tea Party Republican Gov. Paul LePage actively opposing and preventing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Medicaid expansion in Maine, a ballot initiative passed expanding health coverage for the poor by nearly 60 percent of the vote.

Of course, there was intractable and heated opposition to the voter proposal by LePage and his supporters. One of the arguments against the bill was that it would raise the cost of licenses for hunting and fishing, according to The American Prospect. The Prospect noted that the pro-ballot-initiative forces ran a savvy campaign to dispel misleading charges:

Mainers for Health Care, the statewide coalition that helped lead the successful yes campaign, countered the hunting and fishing license price hikes and other tall tales by relentlessly repeating a few salient data points. Medicaid expansion would create 6,000 new jobs and give the state a $500 million infusion of federal funding each year. Most importantly, the measure would provide health care to 70,000 Mainers.

To get out the vote, canvassers hit the road and knocked on more than 200,000 doors. But according to Mainers for Health Care's David Farmer, the decisive factor was the coalition's decision to deploy a "leadership team" of people who would be newly eligible for Medicaid if the measure passed.

One of the women on the "leadership team" earns "$7,000 a year from a newspaper route and sells her plasma to have enough money to take her kids to McDonald's." She also is a caregiver to her three disabled adult children.

Currently 31 states and Washington, DC have expanded Medicaid under the relatively generous terms of the Affordable Care Act. (The federal pays 90 percent of the cost of the new enrollees.) Eligible enrollees for the ACA Medicaid expansion live at 138 percent or below the federally determined poverty line, which varies according to family size.

Despite the will of the Maine voters, LePage is determined to obstruct low-income residents of his state from receiving Medicaid. According to Rewire,

Maine's Republican governor wants to ignore the will of state voters who on Tuesday [November 7] overwhelmingly favored Medicaid expansion in a ballot initiative, but Gov. Paul LePage lacks the constitutional power to stop the measure from becoming law....

In an angry statement issued Wednesday, LePage said, "My administration will not implement Medicaid expansion until it has been fully funded by the legislature at the levels the [Maine Department of Health and Human Services] has calculated, and I will not support increasing taxes on Maine families, raiding the rainy day fund or reducing services to our elderly or disabled."

Rewire quotes a constitutional law expert who states that LePage cannot veto "popularly enacted laws." However, the governor and the state senate can still attempt to thwart enactment of the ballot initiative, the expert concedes.

Indeed, the Portland Press Herald reported that the initiative faces a rocky road with the governor and the Republican senate in Maine:

As supporters of the first-in-the-nation law were declaring victory, LePage and conservatives in the Legislature – who say the expansion will bust the state's budget – were girding for a political battle that is likely to dominate the State House when lawmakers return in January, and could spill into the courts.

This year the Legislature repealed or significantly altered four citizen-initiated measures dealing with the voting process, additional taxes to fund public schools, marijuana legalization and the minimum wage. Those moves angered not only supporters of the measures, but also some lawmakers, who said the will of the people and their rights under the Maine constitution were being violated.

On the other side, Democrats defiantly vowed that the law will be enacted, according to the Press Herald:

"Any attempts to illegally delay or subvert this law will not be tolerated and will be fought with every recourse at our disposal," said Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, D-Freeport. "Mainers demanded affordable access to health care yesterday, and that is exactly what we intend to deliver."

Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, likewise said there was no room for negotiation.

Why should there be any conflict at all over the ACA Medicaid expansion? The voters of Maine have spoken, and they have decided by an overwhelming majority that more people are in need of Medicaid coverage in their state. Uninsured and poor Mainers are waiting for the politics to stop and the provision of health care to begin.