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June 21, 2018

Lawmakers OK funding for Medicaid expansion

Courtesy / Matthew Gagnon, Wikimedia Commons
Courtesy / Matthew Gagnon, Wikimedia Commons
Lawmakers in both the Maine House and Senate have approved a funding plan for Medicaid expansion, but Gov. Paul LePage was granted a stay Wednesday by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on lower court ruling that he immediately begin implementing Medicaid expansion to make it available on July 2.

The political saga of expanding Medicaid coverage to an estimated 70,000 Mainers advanced Wednesday after the Senate approved a plan to pay the state's share of expansion, estimated at between $30 million and $60 million.

The Portland Press Herald reported that the Senate voted 23-9 on an amended version of the bill approved by the House on Tuesday — with the Senate version calling for $31 million of funding to come from surplus funds and $23.5 million from the state's tobacco settlement fund, but excluding the proposed use of roughly $20 million from the state's budget stabilization account, often referred to as the "rainy day" fund.

A news release from the Senate Democratic Office stated that as amended, LD 837, "An Act To Provide Supplemental Appropriations and Allocations for the Operations of State Government," includes $3.5 million for administrative costs and $31 million to implement the program.

"Medicaid expansion is the law," Sen. Cathy Breen of Falmouth, who serves as ranking Democratic Senator on the Legislature's Appropriation and Financial Affairs Committee, said in a news release. "Maine people spoke loud and clear when they voted last year and the courts reaffirmed that vote last week. I am hopeful now we can begin to implement Medicaid expansion without further delay."

The Senate Democratic Office reported that LD 837 faces enactment votes in both the House and the Senate. Pending enactment, the bill will go to the Gov. Paul LePage's desk where he has 10 days to sign the bill into law, veto the bill or let it become law without his signature. The bill passed the House in an initial vote of 78-58.

Latest in ongoing court battle

The Portland Press Herald reported that the lawmakers' approval of a funding measure to launch the voter-approved Medicaid expansion potentially takes away LePage's legal arguments defending his refusal to implement expansion on the grounds that lawmakers hadn't allocated the funding to do so.

On Wednesday, the newspaper reported, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court granted LePage's request to stay the June 4 ruling by Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy ordering his administration to submit a Medicaid expansion plan to the federal government by June 11.

LePage spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz told the Press Herald that the high court's stay allows the governor to delay submitting an expansion plan pending his court appeal of Murphy's decision, which has not yet been scheduled for oral arguments.

Groups call for immediate implementation

Robyn Merrill, executive director of Maine Equal Justice Partners and co-chair of Mainers for Health Care, issued a statement calling for an immediate implementation of Medicaid expansion now that the funding has been approved.

"Gov. Paul LePage has done everything he could to block the will of the voters, who have made clear they want people to have access to affordable health care," Merrill stated. "There are no more excuses. It's time for Maine to expand Medicaid and ensure that people can get care when they become eligible on July 2. More than 70,000 Mainers are waiting for health care. Appropriating funds for Medicaid expansion is an important step in this process. The governor has promised that he will implement the law once funds are appropriated. The funds are available with a revenue surplus of $140 million; this is purely a question of political will and priorities."

Mainers for Health Care is a coalition of organizations dedicated to ensuring Maine families have access to quality, affordable health care. The steering committee includes the Maine Center for Economic Policy, Maine Equal Justice Partners, Maine People's Alliance, Maine Voices Network and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England Maine Action Fund.

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