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Advocates Sue To Force LePage Administration To Expand Medicaid

Patty Wight
Maine Public
Attorney Jamie Kilbreth speaks about advocates' suit to force the state to expand Medicaid Monday outside Kennebec County Superior Court.

Several health care advocacy organizations in Maine are suing the state over its refusal to expand Medicaid. The lawsuit, filed Monday in Kennebec County Superior Court, seeks to compel the Department of Health and Human Services to implement Medicaid expansion after it missed a deadline to file an application with the federal government.

That deadline was in early April, and Robyn Merrill of Maine Equal Justice Partners says the state’s inaction is why her organization, along with Consumers for Affordable Health Care, the Maine Primary Care Association, Penobscot Community Health Care and several individuals have filed a lawsuit.

“To uphold the will of Maine voters and get health care to 70,000 Mainers,” she says. “Mainers who have already waited far too long for care.”

Maine voters approved Medicaid expansion in a referendum last November. Once implemented, Maine would receive about $500 million a year in federal funds, and it would cost about $50 million to $60 million a year in state funds.

Gov. Paul LePage is a staunch opponent of expansion, and has said his administration won’t take any steps to implement it until the Legislature finds funding. But Jamie Kilbreth, the lead attorney representing the health care organizations in the lawsuit, says identifying funding is not a requirement to file the federal application — the basis for the suit.

“There’s just no excuse for that,” he says.

Kilbreth says the LePage administration’s refusal to implement Medicaid expansion is not only illegal but sets a bad precedent.

“It’s bad for the rule of law. It’s setting up the idea that individuals in state government can do whatever they want,” he says, despite the will of voters.

Medicaid expansion is supposed to take effect in July, and Kilbreth has filed a motion to expedite the lawsuit. He says if Attorney General Janet Mills agrees that the LePage administration is breaking the law, the matter could be resolved within days.

A spokesperson for Mills declined comment on the lawsuit. But less than a month ago, Mills, who is also Democratic candidate for governor, suggested the state use additional tobacco settlement funds to pay for expansion. LePage rejected that idea as a one-time budget gimmick.

Neither LePage’s office nor DHHS responded to requests for comment for this story by airtime.

This story was originally published April 30, 2018 at 11:36 a.m. ET.