Advocates take Gov. Paul LePage to court over Medicaid expansion

Medicaid expansion advocates in Maine asked a state court Monday to force Gov. Paul LePage’s administration to carry out a voter-approved plan to cover 80,000 more state residents.

The Maine Equal Justice Partners, a nonprofit legal aid group, says nearly 60 percent of state voters supported a successful ballot effort to expand Medicaid, yet the state Department of Health and Human Services ignored an early April deadline to outline its expansion plans to federal officials in D.C.

The state must submit the plan so it can receive an influx of federal expansion funds under Obamacare.

“Due to the failure or refusal of the commissioner timely to submit the required state plan amendment, each and every individual petitioner faces a delay in obtaining medically necessary and potentially life-saving health coverage,” a coalition of nonprofits and individuals said in a petition filed in state Superior Court.

They want the court to compel the LePage administration to submit an expansion plan within three days and expand coverage by July 2.

Maine is among 32 states, plus D.C., that have opted to expand Medicaid — a federal-state insurance program for the poor — to those making 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

It is a key plank of President Obama’s 2010 health law, though the Supreme Court made it optional for states.

Maine is unique, however. The issue was posed directly to voters last November, after Mr. LePage, a Republican, vetoed several legislative attempts to expand Medicaid.

Advocates say they’re tired of the governor stymieing the voters’ will.

Mr. LePage’s office declined to comment on active litigation, though said the governor’s position hasn’t changed since he set guardrails for expansion in December.

While federal taxpayers assume most of the cost of expansion, states have to pay a share that will slowly rise to 10 percent by 2020.

Mr. LePage, who is term-limited and will leave office after this year, says lawmakers must find a way to fully fund Maine’s share without raising taxes on families or businesses, using one-time budget “gimmicks” or raiding a budget-stabilization fund.

He also said Medicaid expansion cannot come at the expense of disabled or elderly populations that rely on taxpayer-funded services.

While Maine figures out a way forward, advocates in other states are mimicking its Medicaid maneuver.

Out West, a group called Reclaim Idaho said Monday it had gathered 60,000 signatures — it only needed about 56,000 — to get Medicaid expansion on the November ballot. It is submitting them to county clerks for certification by June 30.

Proponents of the effort say expansion would cover 62,000 more Idahoans.

Earlier this month, advocates in Utah gathered enough signatures to put Medicaid expansion on the ballot. They’re waiting for certification.

Similar petition efforts are underway in Nebraska and Montana.

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