January 20, 2018
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Mainers voted for health care. They deserve more than LePage’s obstruction.


Updated:
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Jeremy Kennedy of Mainers for Healthcare rallys the crowd at the Yes on 2 headquarters in Portland on Tuesday night. Kennedy's group has campaigned for Medicaid expansion in Maine.

Maine voters resoundingly approved an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, in a strong rebuke to Gov. Paul LePage, President Donald Trump and Republicans leaders who want to take health insurance away from Americans.

With the expansion, about 80,000 low-income parents and adults without children will gain coverage under MaineCare, the state’s version of Medicaid. An analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that the majority of those who are eligible for the expanded coverage live in rural areas, and a majority are working yet struggling to get by.

Tuesday’s vote shows that Mainers value access to affordable health insurance and understand that covering more people is good for not only the newly insured but also for the rest of the state.

A big roadblock remains, however.

Ever the sore loser, LePage announced Wednesday morning that he would not implement the expansion voters had approved just hours earlier. He again cited the lies — that expansion would ruin the state budget and take care away from the elderly and disabled — that were a cornerstone of the failed anti-expansion campaign.

Under the Maine Constitution, the governor has no power to veto a measure passed by the voters. In fact, under the Constitution, the Medicaid expansion law becomes effective 45 days after the Legislature convenes in January. Insurance, through Medicaid, must be available to those who qualify under the expansion 180 days after that. If LePage interferes with this timetable, those who qualify for insurance but can’t get it can sue the state.

This puts the onus on lawmakers to go around LePage and fund the voter-approved expansion when they convene next year. Lawmakers have approved Medicaid expansion five times and LePage vetoed it five times, leading to Tuesday’s referendum vote.

LePage did leave himself some wiggle room by saying he wouldn’t implement the expansion “until it has been fully funded by the Legislature at the levels DHHS 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.”

The expansion can be implemented without increasing taxes, raiding the rainy day fund or reducing services, so that part is taken care of. As for the funding figures from the Department of Health and Human Services, they are ever changing and wrong, and therefore irrelevant.

Accurate cost figures come from the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review, which does financial analysis for the Legislature. It calculated that the expansion would bring $525 million into the state every year from federal coffers. The state would ultimately have to spend about $54.5 million from its own coffers annually, the office calculated. That’s about 1.5 percent of a single year of state spending.

Medicaid expansion, Question 2, passed easily despite a spate of scare tactics and disinformation from LePage and others who opposed it. Robocalls, including one from singer Pat Boone, wrongly warned seniors that a vote for Question 2 would mean cuts to nursing homes and care for the elderly and disabled. Another call warned sportsmen that voting for Question 2 would mean price increases for hunting and fishing licenses, a total fabrication.

Maine joins 31 other states that have expanded Medicaid. Seventeen of those states are governed by Republicans, none of whom have sought to end the expansion, which covers low-income people who aren’t poor enough or don’t have a disability to otherwise qualify for Medicaid.

Up to this point, Maine has left billions of federal dollars on the table and unnecessarily left tens of thousands of its residents without health insurance by rejecting Medicaid expansion.

Maine voters sent a strong message that they want to end the politically motivated obstruction and instead provide health coverage to thousands of their neighbors, friends and co-workers. It is now up to the state’s leaders to make this happen.

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