Court orders Maine’s Republican governor to expand Medicaid already

That means 70,000 Mainers can start applying for insurance July 2.

Maine Governor Paul LePage takes part in a meeting on infrastructure with state and local officials in the State Dining Room of the White House on February 12, 2018 in Washington, DC.  / AFP PHOTO        (Photo credit should read /AFP/Getty Images)
Maine Governor Paul LePage takes part in a meeting on infrastructure with state and local officials in the State Dining Room of the White House on February 12, 2018 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read /AFP/Getty Images)

On Monday, a state judge ordered the Maine Department of Health and Gov. Paul LePage (R) to follow through on a voter-approved ballot measure and expand health care to thousands of residents, ending seven months of stonewalling.

Last November, nearly 60 percent of Maine voters approved Medicaid expansion, making it the first state to expand the public insurance program under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by ballot box. Just days after, LePage and state Republicans vowed to delay the voter-approved law. The governor has always been a staunch opponent of expansion, vetoing legislation five times.

Advocates sued the LePage administration in April after officials missed a critical deadline to submit a proposal to the federal government that expands the program. Kennebec County Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy ultimately sided with advocates, ordering the state to comply with the November referendum.

Now 70,000 Mainers will get to sign up for health care on July 2, according to Maine Equal Justice Partners, one of several petitioners. The court ordered officials to submit a state plan amendment to the federal health department by June 11.

This marks the second victory in under a week for Medicaid expansion advocates. Last week, after five years of Republican obstructionism, the Virginia Legislature voted to expand Medicaid, providing 400,000 residents Medicaid insurance. The catch for advocates is lawmakers also added a measure to get the federal government to approve 80-hour-a-month work requirements for the newly covered. People living near the poverty line will also have to pay premiums and copays.

Utah is another state pursuing Medicaid expansion and work requirements. However, state officials asked the federal government to partially expand, meaning extending coverage to people living up to 100 of the federal poverty level, rather than the ACA’s 138 percent. The federal government hasn’t signaled whether it’ll approve it.

This is why it’s likelier that Utah will expand Medicaid by ballot box. Last week, state officials announced the measure will be added to the November ballot. Idaho and Nebraska are also trying to expand coverage by ballot box. Seventeen states have refused to expand Medicaid coverage under the ACA.