Maine is a very interesting state, politically. On the one hand they have perhaps the most right-wing governor in the country. On the other hand it was the first state to pass a voter referendum requiring the expansion of Medicaid.
After the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed states had the option of expanding Medicaid by raising the income threshold to qualify by 20%. Most states did this to cover more poor people with health insurance, but a good number of states did not (all of them with Republican governors and legislatures). The expansion was mostly paid for by federal dollars.
In Maine the legislature tried to force right-wing governor Paul LePage to expand Medicaid but he vetoed their legislation several times, which upset many of the voters.
As a last resort healthcare activists got the question on the ballot last November, and it passed overwhelmingly. So that should have been the end of the question of Medicaid expansion in Maine: the people have spoken.
But LePage, who once said that people of color are enemies who should be shot, would not go along quietly. In short, he flat out refused to follow the requirements of the ballot measure, and he has STILL refused to expand Medicaid in his state. His excuse is that the legislature has not met his demands for how the expansion will be funded. He missed an April 1st deadline to notify the federal government about the expansion, and now is refusing to do what is necessary to expand healthcare coverage to 80,000 people in Maine. So he is being sued.
“With the goal of getting health care to people as soon as possible, we decided we couldn’t wait any longer,” said Robyn Merrill of Maine Equal Justice Partners, explaining why his group is suing the governor.
The lawsuit was no surprise since LePage had been refusing to act and the Maine Legislature is now out of session, and they did not pass a Medicaid funding agreement.
LePage is in his last year of office but still has forced healthcare advocates to take legal actions that are wasting the state’s money. The ballot referendum and the lawsuit are expenses the state could have avoided by expanding Medicaid in accordance with the legislation that was passed five times earlier.
This proves that what motivates “conservatives” like LePage is not saving money but an ideology which says that poor people should not receive help from the government — especially if they are people of color.
The lawsuit was filed against the Maine Department of Health and Human Services who is responsible for Medicaid. In an interesting wrinkle, the suit must be defended by the state’s attorney general, who is a Democrat. Not only that, but the attorney general is also running for governor this year. Maine Attorney General Janet Mills has not said anything about the lawsuit, including whether or not she would participate in defending the state, which would put her in a very difficult position.
Mills has proposed that Medicaid expansion costs be paid for using $35 million from a tobacco settlement, which seems like a reasonable compromise. But in Maine, with LePage at the helm, words like “reason” and “compromise” seemingly don’t exist.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.