Critics want LePage to expand Medicaid as voters demanded

February 12, 2018 GMT

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Activists on Monday again called for Maine Gov. Paul LePage to stop blocking Medicaid expansion as his administration nears deadlines approved by voters at the polls.

The Mainers for Health Campaign said it plans to hold a rally Tuesday evening during the final State of the State address of LePage, a Republican who has long warned of cost overruns in other expansion states. Maine last fall became the first state to expand Medicaid by popular vote to more than 80,000 low-income Mainers which would cost $54.5 million annually — money which activists claim wouldn’t come due until early next year.

“It really looks like the resources are available for people to gain coverage under the law,” Robyn Merrill, a leader of the Medicaid expansion campaign, said. “That takes any excuses away from the governor.”

Under the voter-approved law, Maine faces an April deadline to submit a plan about expanding Medicaid to federal officials. Maine’s Medicaid program is set to expand July 2.

The voter-approved law also requires the state Department of Health and Human Services to provide lawmakers with monthly reports on the progress of implementation and any issues that might delay Medicaid expansion, along with possible solutions.

Office of Fiscal and Program Review analyst Luke Lazure told The Associated Press on Monday that lawmakers are awaiting such reports, which are due between Jan. 4 and the date of approval of Maine’s expansion plan.

“It’s very discouraging to me, it seems to be a kind of game that they’re playing,” said Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine, co-chair of the Legislature’s appropriations committee.

In the governor’s last year in office, the LePage administration has told lawmakers that those deadlines may be pushed by “practical considerations.”

“The reality is that in order to buy health care for more than 80,000 people, the state needs the money to pay for it,” Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Ricker Hamilton wrote in a Jan. 3 memo to lawmakers. “Adequately funding the program over the last several years has reaped significant reward, which cannot be jeopardized to temporarily fund a massive expansion of welfare.”

The department said Medicaid could provide savings, but only down the road.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, Emily Spencer, said the governor has been clear he will block Medicaid expansion if lawmakers don’t cover the expansion’s cost. Spencer did not respond to questions about whether the department plans to file monthly reports.

The Medicaid expansion campaign — which received more than $1 million from out-of-state, liberal-learning nonprofits — has threatened litigation if Maine doesn’t expand Medicaid as planned.