CREDIT: AP/Robert F. Bukaty
Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) on Wednesday vetoed a GOP-sponsored proposal that would have extended health coverage to roughly 70,000 low-income residents in his state. The governor has been particularly resistant to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which intends to extend public insurance benefits to additional poor Americans who struggle to afford the cost of health coverage. This is the third time he has rejected it.
The state’s Democratic-controlled legislature has repeatedly attempted to get LePage to expand the program. The newest expansion bill was spearheaded by two moderate Republicans and passed with bipartisan support — but it ultimately didn’t matter to the fiercely anti-Obamacare governor, who once called the Affordable Care Act “the degradation of our nation’s premier health care system” and said he wouldn’t lift a finger to implement it.
Even though the federal government would cover the full cost of the first year of the expansion, and up to 90 percent of the cost after that, LePage is still wary to implement the policy. He’s one of a handful of Republican leaders who claim that the government can’t be trusted to follow through on its funding promise.
“Proponents of this bill tout ‘free’ federal money and unspecified state ‘savings’ with no backup for these claims,” LePage said in a statement. “It is shortsighted to think federal funds will always be available, especially after watching the federal deficit climb and witnessing continual delays and changes from Washington.”
In addition to refusing to expand the public program, LePage has actually attempted to contract it. In 2012, he sought to drop 37,000 low-income people who currently have Medicaid coverage from their plans. The federal government prevented him from dropping all of those people, but LePage still successfully removed about 20,000 people from the rolls last March.
Millions of low-income people who live in states that are resisting Medicaid expansion don’t have any access to affordable insurance whatsoever. They fall into a “coverage gap,” in which they make too much money to qualify for Medicaid coverage but too little money to qualify for federal subsidies to buy a private plan. Thanks to LePage’s continued resistance to this Obamacare provision, an estimated 24,000 Maine residents are stuck in this gap.
The partisan fight over Medicaid translates into some pretty dire real-world consequences. The low-income people who live in anti-expansion states tend to have more health problems than their counterparts in pro-expansion states, and they also struggle more to afford health services. Harvard researchers recently estimated that as many as 17,000 people will die directly as a result of their states refusing to expand Medicaid.