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After months of uncertainty following Maine’s passage of a voter-approved Medicaid expansion effort last year, a state judge on Monday ordered Gov. Paul LePage’s administration to officially move forward with expansion plans.
In her ruling, Justice Michaela Murphy of Maine Superior Court ordered the administration to submit a state plan amendment that would update the terms of its Medicaid program and submit it to the federal government by June 11.
The ruling cited the “complete failure to act” by Maine Department of Health and Human Services to establish a file a plan to expand Medicaid by the original April 3 deadline.
Maine was the first state to expand Medicaid through referendum, and if Gov. LePage’s administration complies by next week, more than 70,000 eligible residents will be able to enroll for healthcare coverage by July 2.
It would also trigger a federal cash flow of more than $500 million in federal funds to help the state cover healthcare costs of those with yearly incomes more than 138 percent of the poverty level, which is $16,642 for an individual or $24,600 for a family of four.
A spokesperson for Gov. LePage’s administration told Politico that they are reviewing the decision and declined to say if they would appeal the ruling.
The court order is a big win for Maine Equal Justice Partners, a progressive group that filed a lawsuit in April to force LePage’s administration to move forward on expansion after DHHS missed the deadline, according to a report in the Bangor Daily News.
Gov. LePage has staunchly disapproved of Medicaid expansion efforts, vetoing similar measures multiple times in his two terms of office saying it will burden taxpayers and the state budget. His administration laid blame on the state legislature, arguing that they have not found adequate funding to implement the ballot measure.
“Now that Medicaid Expansion is the law, it is my responsibility to implement it, and I will. But until they adequately fund it, there is nothing we can do,” Gov. LePage said in a press release. “Before we can proceed with expansion, DHHS needs both the staff to implement it and the money to pay the bills that will come due when the state plan amendment is approved.”
The full cost of implementing the expansion is a disputed figure between Gov. LePage’s administration, which estimates as much as $100 million a year, and the nonpartisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review, which estimated a need of $45 million in state funds.
Similar to last week’s announcement that Virginia’s lawmakers successfully passed Medicaid expansion after a five-year battle, the new stream of funding for Maine hospitals could provide a boon to travel employment opportunities in the state.
Newly insured patients who may not have had access to healthcare services will flock to hospitals, which could cause a spike in temporary staffing needs.
The major difference with Maine, however, is that Maine’s enrollment will begin this summer if the court’s ruling stands, whereas Virginia won’t see an influx in new Medicaid patients until next year.
We’ll keep tracking this story as it develops, but keep an eye out in Maine after mid-July and in August for a potential spike in job leads.
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