Defiant LePage says he won't implement voter-approved Medicaid expansion

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Gov. Paul LePage speaks at aa Auburn town hall in 2015, LePage said he would not act to implement Medicaid expansion until it was fully funded by the Legislature. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage issued a defiant statement Wednesday following overwhelming approval by voters of a ballot initiative to expand the state’s Medicaid system under the federal Affordable Care Act.

LePage, who campaigned against the expansion and has five times successfully vetoed legislation that would have expanded Maine’s low-income health care system under the federal law, said he would not act to implement the expansion until it was fully funded by the Legislature. He did not expand on what that meant.

“The last time Maine experimented with Medicaid expansion in 2002 under then-governor Angus King, it created a $750 million debt to hospitals, resulted in massive budget shortfalls every year, did not reduce emergency room use, did not reduce the number of uninsured Mainers and took resources away from our most vulnerable residents—the elderly and the intellectually and physically disabled,” LePage said in a prepared statement issued by his office.

In 2013 LePage signed into law a bill that used revenue from the state’s wholesale liquor business to finance a $183.5 million payment to the state’s 39 hospitals for costs they incurred under the Medicaid system but had not been paid for by the state. That payment drew down an additional $307 million in federal matching funds.

Nearly 60 percent of those voting Tuesday, however approved an expansion that would extend Medicaid benefits to an estimated 70,000 people making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. The federal government would pay 90 percent of the cost of expansion.

“Credit agencies are predicting that this fiscally irresponsible Medicaid expansion will be ruinous to Maine’s budget,” LePage said. “Therefore, my administration will not implement Medicaid expansion until it has been fully funded by the Legislature at the levels DHHS has calculated, and I will not support increasing taxes on Maine families, raiding the rainy day fund or reducing services to our elderly or disabled.”

LePage’s office said a statement from at least one credit agency would be released later Wednesday.

David Farmer, a spokesman for the campaign that supported the ballot question law, said LePage couldn’t “unilaterally” block the will of the voters.

“More than 70,000 Mainers have already waited too long for health care,” Farmer said. “They shouldn’t have to wait any longer. The governor cannot ignore the law or the Constitution of Maine. Simply put, the governor does not have veto power of citizen’s initiatives and he cannot ignore the law.”

LePage’s statement also triggered a wave of reaction from State House leaders on both sides of the aisle.

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, acknowledged in a radio interview on the Bangor-based WVOM that approval of the ballot question by voters made it the “law of the land” but also said his caucus wouldn’t support any tax increases or a raid on the state’s savings account, known as the budget stabilization fund.

“I acknowledge the passing of the referendum dealing with the expansion of Medicaid,” Fredette said in a prepared statement issued following the radio interview. “However, I do not believe House Republicans will support any tax increase or the raiding of the rainy day fund to pay for an ever-expanding state government due to the out of control referendum process.”

But Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said Democrats would fight for the expansion and resist any attempts by LePage and Fredette to eschew the voters’ will.

“When Gov. LePage and his allies tried to defeat Medicaid expansion at the ballot box, Mainers turned out in the ballot box to reject his lies. And we won,” Jackson said. “And when, inevitably, Gov. LePage and Rep. Fredette conspire this year to overturn the voters’ will and take health care away from 80,000 Mainers, we will rise up to resist them. And we will win.” 

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