AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - Tuesday night - Maine became the first state to expand Medicaid by a referendum vote.
Medicaid expansion has been passed by the legislature and vetoed by Governor LePage 5 times previously, which is why a group decided to take it to referendum vote.
Because of the Governor’s opposition, implementing the expansion won't be simple, and the stage is already set for a big battle in Augusta this winter.
Before the election - Governor LePage urged Mainers to vote NO on Question 2. “We already lived through the disaster of Medicaid expansion,” he said in his radio address.
Now that Question 2 has passed, the Governor is saying his administration won't implement the expansion unless his demands are met.
The expansion would be paid for by both the state and federal governments. The Legislature's fiscal office predicts that the first year of Medicaid expansion will cost the state $13.6 million. But DHHS predictions are much higher - saying that the expansion will cost the state $63 million in year 1.
Representatives from the campaign to support Medicaid expansion say DHHS is not a credible source. David Farmer, the Communications Director for Mainers for Healthcare said, “the Office of Fiscal and Program Review, which is a nonpartisan office set up to predict what these things will cost, says it will cost 13.6 million dollars.”
The Governor is following those DHHS numbers. LePage says his administration will not implement Medicaid expansion until that $63 million has been fully funded in the Legislature's budget. He wrote in a statement, “I will not support increasing taxes on Maine families, raiding the rainy day fund or reducing services to our elderly or disabled.”
Allocating $63 million is no easy task. Remember, the state government went into shutdown just this summer when legislators couldn't agree on a budget.
Mainers for Healthcare say they aren't worried. “Last year, the state finished the fiscal year with a $111 million surplus,” Farmer said. “The money is there. This is not brain surgery.”
So what does this mean for the future of Medicaid expansion?
Either the legislature comes up with the money in a way that will please governor LePage, or they have the votes to override him.
Either way, though, the Medicaid expansion automatically becomes law 45 days after the legislature reconvenes. “[LePage] cannot stop it,” said Farmer. “And if he fails to implement the law once it takes effect, we will sue him.”
NEWSCENTERnow reached out to the Governor's office for an interview to learn more about his plans, but we were told that he wasn't available.