November 8, 2017

LePage won't implement Medicaid expansion until it's 'fully funded'

Foto: Courtesy / Matthew Gagnon, Wikimedia Commons)
Foto: Courtesy / Matthew Gagnon, Wikimedia Commons)
Gov. Paul LePage said today he won't implement the Medicaid expansion approved by Maine voters Tuesday 59% to 41% until it's fully funded by the Maine Legislature.

Despite a solid 59% to 41% majority approving in Tuesday's statewide election an expansion of Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act to more than 70,000 Mainers, Gov. Paul LePage said today he won't implement that measure until it's fully funded by the Maine Legislature.

"The last time Maine experimented with Medicaid expansion in 2002 under then-governor Angus King, it created a $750 million debt to hospitals, resulted in massive budget shortfalls every year, did not reduce emergency room use, did not reduce the number of uninsured Mainers and took resources away from our most vulnerable residents — the elderly and the intellectually and physically disabled," LePage said in a statement sent to Mainebiz Wednesday morning. "Credit agencies are predicting that this fiscally irresponsible Medicaid expansion will be ruinous to Maine's budget. Therefore, my administration will not implement Medicaid expansion until it has been fully funded by the Legislature at the levels the 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."

Citizens say 'yes' to Medicaid expansion

Maine became the first state in the country to expand Medicaid through a citizens' initiative, with voters in Tuesday's statewide referendum approving Question 2 by a 59-41 margin, according to results reported by the Portland Press Herald with 90% of the ballots counted.

Up to now, Maine has been one of 19 states that had refused to expand Medicaid under the ACA, with LePage successfully vetoing five expansion bills that had passed the Legislature, the newspaper reported. Under the ACA, Medicaid expansion by the states was voluntary, with the federal government promising to pay 94% of the expansion cost in 2018 and gradually lowering its share to 90% by 2020.

Maine Public reported that the state's Office of Fiscal and Program Review estimated that accepting the government's Medicaid expansion payment would bring in $500 million from the federal government per year. That would enable about 70,000 adult Mainers who earn up to 138% of the federal poverty level — or $16,643 for a single person and $22,417 for a family of two — to be eligible for Medicaid.

But Brent Littlefield of the Welfare to Work PAC, which opposed Question 2, told Maine Public the state's cost is projected to be about $50 million a year.

"The Legislature has to somehow come up with the money for this large government expansion, and there is no money there to pay for that," he told Maine Public. "So now the Legislature has to ask themselves, 'How do we pay for this?' And that is likely to result in cuts, or likely a push for tax increases."

Democrats promise to 'implement the law'

State Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, the Senate minority leader, issued the following statement today promising a strong response by the Democratic Party to LePage's refusal to implement the Medicaid expansion approved by voters.

"When President Donald Trump and his allies in Congress tried to take health care away from millions of Americans, this country rose up to resist. And we won," he said in his written statement. "When Gov. LePage and his allies tried to defeat Medicaid expansion at the ballot box, Mainers turned out in the ballot box to reject his lies. And we won. And when, inevitably, Gov. LePage and Rep. Ken Fredette [Republican House minority leader] conspire this year to overturn the voters' will and take health care away from 80,000 Mainers, we will rise up to resist them. And we will win."

Jackson continued: "Mainers passed Question 2 because they want more health care, not less. They want to give our state the tools we need to fight the opioid epidemic, to keep critical rural hospitals open for business and to create sorely needed jobs.

"Now that Medicaid Expansion is the law of the land in Maine, Democrats are resolute in our commitment to fully implementing the law. Democrats will not give an inch in this fight, because it is a matter of life and death. We will give no quarter to anyone who tries to take health care away from those hardworking Mainers who have been allowed to fall through the cracks for too long."

Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, issued this statement at noon Wednesday: "We will be fully and faithfully implementing this law. The Legislature will move swiftly to fund Medicaid expansion as required by law. The governor and Department of Health and Human Services commissioner will implement its requirements as well, as they are obligated to do.

"Any attempts to illegally delay or subvert this law will not be tolerated and will be fought with every recourse at our disposal. Mainers demanded affordable access to health care yesterday, and that is exactly what we intend to deliver."


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