Maine Attorney General Janet Mills says that she has a solution to the funding stalemate between Gov. LePage and lawmakers that is blocking Medicaid expansion. At the State House Tuesday, Mills announced that Maine will receive millions in additional funds from a settlement with tobacco companies that could pay for expanding health care coverage, which voters approved last year.
Maine will receive about $35 million in tobacco settlement money, after resolving a years-long legal dispute.
That $35 million, says Mills “will be more than adequate to fully implement Medicaid expansion through fiscal year 2019."
A study released earlier this year by Manatt Health found that expanding Medicaid would cost the state about $30 million in its first year, and trigger about $300 million in matching federal funds.
Mills is a Democratic candidate for governor, and a political rival of Gov. LePage. Her proposal to use the extra tobacco settlement money could be a way around LePage, who has said he won't expand Medicaid until lawmakers find a way to fund it without raising taxes or dipping into the state's rainy day fund. Mills' announcement came on the heels of another press conference, urging the governor to implement Medicaid expansion.
"The governor may not like the will of the voters, but there's no question that he must execute it and provide healthcare to 70,000 people,” says Robyn Merrill, executive director of Maine Equal Justice Partners.
The press conferences – which apparently were not coordinated – came on the date that marks the deadline for when governor LePage is supposed to submit a plan to the federal government to expand Medicaid.
Dr. Sam Zager, of Maine Providers Standing Up for Healthcare, says there's an urgent need to provide healthcare to those who currently can't access it.
"We are asking the governor to provide the cure for that condition. Which, in this case, is the administration of 3 milligrams of pen ink, applied to a Medicaid expansion plan, times one. Stat.”
In a statement released late this afternoon, Gov. LePage criticized Mills for the timing of her announcement to link Medicaid expansion with tobacco settlement money. "We have been trying to use the tobacco settlement money for Medicaid programs," LePage says, "But the attorney general has stood in our way every time. Now that she is running for governor she suddenly wants to use this money as a one-time budget gimmick to fund Medicaid expansion."