Dueling court verdicts issued Tuesday over the legality of financial subsidies provided to Americans under the Affordable Care Act elicited quick response from Maine’s gubernatorial candidates.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the federal government can’t legally administer health insurance subsidies in Maine and 35 other states relying on the Healthcare.gov marketplace. Hours later, another federal circuit court in Virginia — in a separate case — upheld the subsidies in a conflicting ruling.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage said Maine couldn’t afford to pick up the cost of the subsidies, which are funded by federal taxpayer dollars.

“First the federal government forced people to buy health insurance,” LePage said in a statement. “Now, if this ruling holds up, these people would lose their federal subsidies to pay for that health insurance. Their premiums could skyrocket for plans that in some cases might be more expensive than their previous plans, which were canceled as a result of the law, making their health insurance unaffordable.”

LePage, who is running for re-election, urged Mainers to “call on those in Congress who voted for this scheme to get to work and fix this law immediately.”

LePage’s statement Tuesday reinforced his position as a staunch opponent of the Affordable Care Act. He’s often criticized Democratic President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress for enacting the health reform act — and five times vetoed Democratic legislators’ proposals to expand Medicaid eligibility in Maine as outlined by the Affordable Care Act.

His Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, voted in favor of the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Michaud said the D.C. court’s ruling undermined the intent of the law to provide quality, affordable health coverage to all Americans and stem rapidly rising healthcare costs.

“I remain committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find bipartisan fixes for the Affordable Care Act that will ensure as many Americans as possible have access to efficient, quality and affordable healthcare,” he said in a statement.

Michaud also reiterated his past support for establishing a state-run health insurance marketplace.

Tuesday’s court rulings don’t affect subsidies in states that opted to establish their own marketplaces, also called exchanges.

Brent Littlefield, LePage’s senior political consultant, highlighted the troubled and costly rollout of some state-run marketplaces, such as in Oregon, Massachusetts, Hawaii and Vermont.

Other state exchanges exceeded expectations.

Eliot Cutler, the independent candidate in Maine’s gubernatorial race, said Maine could have avoided any potential fallout from the D.C. court ruling if the state had established its own exchange. As a direct consequence of LePage’s opposition to a state-run exchange, roughly 39,000 Mainers now must wonder about how to afford health care, he said.

“Had Maine set up its own exchange, these people would not be living today with the uncertainty that this decision has created,” Cutler said in an interview.

Maine could still opt to set up its own exchange. Cutler said such legislation would be among the first bills he would send to the Legislature as governor.

Federal funding offered to states to set up their own exchanges, however, expires in October, before Maine’s Nov. 4 gubernatorial election.

As governor, LePage had a responsibility to ensure Maine people have access to quality care, when they need it, at an affordable price, Cutler said.

“Turning your back on that fundamental responsibility is, I think, a terrible, terrible mistake,” Cutler said.


Jackie Farwell

I'm the health editor for the Bangor Daily News, a Bangor native, a UMaine grad, and a weekend crossword warrior. I never get sick of writing about Maine people, geeking out over health care data, and...