State Watch

Maine's governor won't expand Medicaid despite approval of ballot measure

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) said Wednesday his administration will not expand Medicaid until the state finds a way to pay for it, a day after voters approved a ballot measure to broaden the program.

"Credit agencies are predicting that this fiscally irresponsible Medicaid expansion will be ruinous to Maine's budget," LePage said in a statement.

"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."

Maine voters on Tuesday approved a ballot measure calling for the state to expand Medicaid under ObamaCare, the first state to do so through a referendum.

LePage, who is term-limited out of office next year, has previously vetoed five Medicaid expansion bills passed by the state's legislature, arguing that such a move would be disastrous for the state's economy.

Maine's House Speaker Sara Gideon (D) said in a statement that the legislature would implement the Medicaid expansion measure, and will fight the governor if he tries to intervene.

"The legislature will move swiftly to fund Medicaid expansion as required by law. The governor and DHHS commissioner will implement its requirements as well, as they are obligated to do," Gideon said.

"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 healthcare yesterday, and that is exactly what we intend to deliver," she added.

Experts questioned LePage's ability to unilaterally block the initiative from taking effect.

Under Maine's constitution, a voter-approved initiative that requires the state to spend money won't become operable until 45 days after the legislature next convenes. That won't happen until Jan. 3, 2018.

After that, the LePage administration has 90 days to submit the required paperwork to the federal government to implement the expansion.

"The governor cannot ignore the law or the Constitution of Maine. The Constitution is clear," said David Farmer, spokesman for the campaign that supported the ballot question.

"Simply put, the governor does not have veto power of citizen's initiatives and he cannot ignore the law. Medicaid expansion will be the law and the governor cannot unilaterally stop that from happening."

Under ObamaCare, the federal government paid for the entire cost of states that chose to expand Medicaid up until this year, when that support dropped to 95 percent. The federal share will eventually drop to 90 percent.

Some of the states that expanded Medicaid early have been paying for their share with taxes on providers.

LePage said expansion will give "free health care to working-age, able-bodied adults, most of whom do not have dependents."

About 80,000 Maine residents living below 133 percent of the federal poverty line will now be eligible for the state's Medicaid program, according to the state.

If the measure is implemented, Maine would be the 32nd state, along with Washington, D.C., to expand Medicaid.

Updated: 2:57 p.m.

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