Speed Reads

ObamaCare (still) lives

Maine judge orders governor to stop stonewalling voter-approved Medicaid expansion

On Monday, a Maine Superior Court judge ordered Gov. Paul LePage (R) to move forward on a Medicaid expansion law approved by nearly 60 percent of voters in 2017, saying his administration's "complete failure to act" by the April 3 deadline "cannot be considered substantial compliance" with the new law. LePage, who had vetoed five bills to expand Medicaid in five years, argued that he would not enact the voter-approved law unless the legislature appropriated money for it without raising taxes. He also complained that the Medicaid expansion, allowed under the Affordable Care Act and mostly financed by the federal government, was a form of welfare.

Justice Michaela Murphy said the law was "clear and unambiguous" that LePage's administration had to send the federal government a plan to accept the Medicaid expansion by April 3, allowing lower-income residents to obtain coverage by July 2, and she gave him until June 11 to send the paperwork to Washington. A LePage spokeswoman said the governor's office is reviewing the ruling and did not say if he will appeal to the Maine Supreme Court. "Maine voters did not make a request at the ballot, they passed a law, and laws are not optional," said Robyn Merrill at Maine Equal Justice Partners, the lead plaintiff suing LePage. "Today's ruling is good news for more than 70,000 Mainers who the law says can sign up for health care on July 2."

Last week, Virginia lawmakers approved Medicaid expansion for 400,000 residents, and Utah voters will consider expanding the program in November, as might voters in Idaho and Nebraska. The Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion extends coverage to citizens with income up to 138 percent of the poverty level; the federal government picks up the entire tab for the new enrollees for three years, then at least 90 percent after that. Seventeen states have declined to take the federal government up on the offer. Maine was the first state to expand Medicaid by referendum.