Janet Mills says she’ll implement Medicaid expansion immediately

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Gov.-elect Janet Mills showed up at the Medicaid expansion lawsuit court hearing in Maine Superior Court on Wednesday, the morning after winning a decisive victory in the gubernatorial election.

Mills said she was “here to listen” to the lawsuit, where activist group Maine Equal Justice Partners is suing the LePage administration for failing to implement Medicaid expansion.

Mills, a Democrat, is a strong supporter of Medicaid expansion, taking the opposite position of outgoing Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

“Dragging our feet any longer on this is inexcusable at this point,” Mills said.

Mills said she will implement Medicaid expansion immediately after she takes office in January using existing state funds.

Maine voters approved Medicaid expansion in a November 2017 referendum. But LePage, an expansion opponent who has vetoed attempts by the Legislature to expand Medicaid, refused to implement it, arguing that there wasn’t enough state funding to do so.

Under expansion, the federal government pays 90 percent of the cost of health care for those who enroll under the expansion population, with the state picking up the rest. In Maine, about 70,000 people, mostly low-income adults, would become eligible for Medicaid under the expansion.

Maine Equal Justice Partners filed a lawsuit this spring when the LePage administration failed to implement expansion, arguing that the administration must follow the voter-approved law. The case has been tied up in court ever since.

James Kilbreth, an attorney for Maine Equal Justice, said on Wednesday that the LePage administration was demonstrating “contempt and defiance” to the people of Maine for refusing to implement the law.

“(The LePage administration) doesn’t have the ability to say ‘Oh, never mind, we don’t like this law,’” Kilbreth said.

The Maine Attorney General’s Office filed a brief this fall supporting Maine Equal Justice’s position that the law must be implemented. Jonathan Bolton, an assistant attorney general, argued in court Wednesday that the LePage administration must put Medicaid expansion in place.

Bolton said there’s no other law or constitutional issue in conflict with the voter-approved Medicaid expansion, so it should be a clear case.

“This is not the murky middle,” Bolton said. “We don’t think this is a close call.”

This story will be updated.

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