Maine embraces Obamacare, votes to expand Medicaid to 70,000 low-income people

It could encourage other states to put health care on the ballot, too.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File
CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File

Tens of thousands of low-income people previously locked out of affordable coverage got good news tonight.

Voters in Maine elected to expand the Medicaid program, which offers health insurance to low-income people. Before this ballot measure’s success, the state’s legislature repeatedly tried to expand Medicaid, but Gov. Paul LePage (R) issued five different vetoes blocking the legislation.

The Medicaid expansion is a major provision of the Affordable Care Act, but after it was ruled optional by the Supreme Court, many GOP-controlled states have refused to expand the program. Maine, one of 19 states that has resisted expansion, is the first to turn the question over to voters with a ballot measure.

The New York Times reports that other states that held out are closely watching the initiative. In Utah and Idaho, newly formed committees are working to get the question of Medicaid expansion on the ballot next year.

Currently, 268,000 people in Maine are covered by Medicaid, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, while 70,000 people fall into a coverage gap between Medicaid and the ACA. Most of them are now eligible for coverage following the winning yes vote for expansion.

The good news for health care access doesn’t stop in Maine. In Virginia, where the GOP-controlled House has thwarted Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s efforts to expand the program, Republicans are bracing to lose more than 10 seats, a Virginia GOP delegate told The New York Times

Democrat Ralph Northam won the election to replace McAuliffe Tuesday. If Democrats take control of the House of Delegates, the governor could expand the program with the support of the legislature in Virginia as well. The state senate elections aren’t until 2019, but the path to victory for Democrats in that chamber is considered much easier, as Republicans have just a two-seat majority there. 

About 400,000 people would receive access to health insurance if Virginia expanded Medicaid.

This is a breaking news story and will be updated as more information becomes available.