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Medicaid expansion works. That’s why lawmakers must override LePage veto.

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Mainers for Health Care rally outside the State House prior to Gov. Paul LePage's State of the State address, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in Augusta, Maine.

Gov. Paul LePage, as expected, has vetoed a measure to fund the state’s Medicaid expansion, which, by law, was set to enroll new participants this week. There are numerous reasons why lawmakers must override this veto when they convene next week.

The first is that the expansion of Medicaid remains the law. As much as LePage and some Republicans work to slow down implementation, Mainers who meet eligibility requirements can — and should — sign up for the public health insurance. Last month, the LePage administration appealed a ruling that it must file an implementation plan for the expansion. This legal battle does not undercut the legality of expansion. It just delays it.

Refusing to fund the expansion, which LePage has done with his veto, does not make expansion go away. Instead, in means many poor working people in Maine will have to wait longer to have access to health care. This doesn’t benefit anyone.

LePage has long argued that Maine can’t afford to expand Medicaid. He’s wrong. Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government covers 90 percent of the cost. Maine is estimated to receive more than $525 million per year for a state investment of about $55 million annually.

LePage later said he’d support expansion if lawmakers found a way to fund it that didn’t raise taxes or take money away from other programs.

There any many ways to pay the $55 million price tag for the first year. Lawmakers chose two funding sources: the state’s budget surplus and tobacco settlement money.

Now, LePage is blasting lawmakers for using one-time money to foot the expansion bill. At this point, implementing Medicaid expansion has become a waiting game. LePage is doing everything in his power to block the expansion while he remains in office. Democrats have tried numerous times to go around his opposition. The funding in LD 837 is not the best solution, but it would fund expansion for a year, long enough to get it up and running, and, more important, to elect a new governor and Legislature. Hopefully, even if they are not big fans of expansion, they will understand that it is state law and must be implemented.

Maine voters in 2017 passed a referendum to expand Medicaid coverage to more than 70,000 Mainers. Most of them are working but unable to afford health insurance. This was after the Legislature passed expansion five times; LePage vetoed it each time.

Another reason that lawmakers should override LePage’s veto is because expansion works. A recent study found that in states that had expanded Medicaid, people in rural areas were better able to access the health care they needed. For example, more patients with hypertension reduced their blood pressure and more of those with asthma received appropriate medication after expansion.

In other words, when Americans have access to affordable health care they use and their health improves. Everyone should agree this is a positive outcome.

Lawmakers face a long list of LePage vetoes. Overriding this one will be one of their most important tasks when they reconvene in Augusta.

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