Last Tuesday, Maine voters overwhelmingly approved Medicaid expansion in the state. It is estimated that, as a result of the passing of this referendum, over 80,000 additional Mainers will qualify for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The health law allows states to decide whether or not to give Medicaid eligibility to any citizen with an income of up to 138 percent of the poverty level. Although Maine is not the first state to expand eligibility for this program, it is the first state in which this referendum was passed by the voters. Advocacy groups argued that expansion would not only allow for greater coverage, but would also revive infrastructure in rural parts of the state and even create new jobs. Even despite the astounding support for the referendum, and its passing by voters, Maine Governor Paul LePage continues to vehemently oppose health care expansion.
According to an article in The New York Times, before the vote had even occurred, LePage said the expansion would burden taxpayers. He described it as a form of welfare. LePage also argued in an audio address that ‘free’ healthcare is actually very expensive, but someone else pays for it. Before the issue was brought to the voters, LePage had vetoed Medicaid expansion bills five times. He claims that the expansion would cost $63 million (an estimate created by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services) and refuses to look into or even consider the estimate that was conducted by the state’s Office of Fiscal and Program Review, which is independent, and was put in place to advise the Maine legislature.
Since the passing of this referendum, LePage has continuously vowed to not enact the expansion. He is firmly against allowing impoverished people to have access to health care because they are “able-bodied.” The one problem is, he doesn’t actually have the authority to veto or block the bill, the most he could do would be to slow down its implementation. If the bill were to be stopped, it would have to be done by the Maine Congress, who are unlikely to interfere based on their past support of health care reform. The cornerstone of LePage’s argument against expansion is that it is fiscally irresponsible and will be detrimental for the state’s budget. As a tea party Republican, he stated that he would not raise taxes in order to fund this bill and has urged members of the Maine legislature to find large sums of money to make this possible.
LePage has reached his term limit. He only has one year left in office. Still, he should listen to what the people of his state want. Other prominent members of the Maine legislature have urged him to pass the bill, even the Republican Senate President Michael Thibodeau. Thibodeau argued that the people have shown what they want and now it is up to the legislature to find and make the means to allow more Mainers access to health care. Part of what makes democracy, especially local democracy, so powerful is the voice of the average citizen. If LePage does not listen to what the people of his state clearly want, he not only has failed to serve his constituents, but has also fundamentally violated the legislative process our nation was founded upon.