March 20, 2018
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Maine’s voters say they want to help low-income residents. LePage still won’t budge.

Andrew Harnik | AP
Andrew Harnik | AP
Vice President Mike Pence shakes hands with Maine Gov. Paul LePage, left, at a meeting to discuss health care and tax reform in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Complex, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in Washington.

Gov. Paul LePage has made it clear he’ll do whatever he can to stand in the way of implementing the expansion of Medicaid that voters approved earlier this month. As he demands that lawmakers appropriate an inflated dollar amount to pay for the expanded coverage, it’s worth taking stock of what Maine has missed out on in the absence of an expanded Medicaid program in recent years.

Medicaid is an antipoverty program. A study recently published in the journal Health Affairs evaluates public health insurance programs for the role they play in fighting poverty. The researchers found that public health insurance programs such as Medicaid were responsible for a third of the overall poverty reduction for which public benefit programs are responsible.

The only poverty relief available for one of the main populations specifically helped by Medicaid expansion, low-income adults without children, came from Medicaid. That’s poverty relief Maine has refused for nearly four years by refusing to extend Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Medicaid expansion helps people in rural areas. An expansion of Medicaid is also bound to help a population especially prevalent in Maine: low-income adults who live in rural areas.

Another recent study, this one published in the Journal of Rural Health, found that in the more than 30 states that have already expanded Medicaid, the benefits were felt especially in rural areas. As the researchers put it, “Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act increased the probability of Medicaid coverage for targeted populations in rural and urban areas, with a significantly greater increase in rural areas.”

It’s as if Medicaid expansion is a policy tailor-made for Maine.

In a state that hasn’t seen the reductions in poverty and hunger the rest of the country has seen in recent years, Medicaid expansion is a policy that can help. A low-income resident with health problems who can’t afford another source of health coverage will no longer have to worry about going broke to receive health care once the expansion is implemented.

In a state that hasn’t seen the same size reduction in its population lacking health insurance as the rest of the country, Medicaid expansion will also help.

But even though Maine voters have said yes to it, it continues to be a policy LePage and his political allies resist — even as the expansion takes its place in the state’s law books.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services has produced estimates of the cost of expansion that exceed by 50 percent the estimate from the Legislature’s nonpartisan budget office. LePage, of course, is demanding that lawmakers set aside the inflated amount of funding before he says he’ll do anything to implement the voter-approved expansion.

Maine’s low-income residents deserve better than a governor who won’t act to implement a policy that can make a tangible difference in their well-being.

Further, Maine’s voters deserve better than a governor who consistently decides to ignore their will and declare that he knows better than they do.

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