Medicaid expansion advocates announce lawsuit in Maine

Medicaid expansion advocates announce lawsuit in Maine
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Supporters of Maine’s Medicaid expansion law are taking Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration to court to compel the state to begin implementing the ObamaCare program, which voters approved in November.

Maine Equal Justice Partners led the effort to put the expansion to a vote last year, and announced Monday it was filing a lawsuit in conjunction with other individuals and groups.

“The governor has continued to drag his feet," Robyn Merrill, the group’s executive director, said at a press conference at Maine's state courthouse. “We don’t know what’s going to happen with the legislature. They still have the opportunity to act on Medicaid expansion, but that hasn’t happened yet. And so with the goal of getting health care to people as soon as possible, we decided we couldn’t wait any longer.”

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Lawyers on the case said the administration missed an April 3 deadline to file a federal application to expand Medicaid. They’re also filing a Monday motion to expedite the request.

The expansion garnered support from nearly 60 percent of state voters in November and is expected to provide health insurance coverage to an estimated 80,000 people.

LePage is a staunch opponent of Medicaid expansion, and vetoed the measure five times while in office. But he is term-limited, and so the fate of the state’s expansion could change come November.

LePage’s office said in an email that it does not comment on active litigation.

But the governor’s position hasn’t changed since he sent a letter to the Maine state legislature in December, writing that he wouldn’t let lawmakers raise taxes or take money from the rainy day fund to implement the law.

“You, the Legislature, now must do your job to fund it as quickly as possible so the Executive branch can do its job: execute the law,” LePage wrote. “But I will not implement it without adequate funding. It’s time to act responsibly to fund this referendum with real dollars based on savings.”

That’s left Medicaid expansion in a holding pattern in Maine. The Portland Press Herald reports that the legislature an initial $3.8 million expenditure to fund administrative costs and new hires has been caught up in a political fight in the state legislature.

Across the country, groups in states such as Idaho and Nebraska are looking to put Medicaid expansion on the ballot. Advocates in Utah have already garnered enough signatures to do so.

Updated at 1:07 p.m.