Maine Voters Approve Expansion of Medicaid Under Obamacare

Supporters of Medicaid expansion celebrate their victory on Tuesday. The vote makes Maine the 32nd state to agree to expand Medicaid to thousands of low-income adults who qualify for coverage. | Robert F. Bukaty/AP Photo

Maine voters on Tuesday delivered a strong rebuke to their governor by approving an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program under Obamacare — the first time state voters have directly authorized such an expansion.

The vote makes Maine the 32nd state to agree to expand Medicaid to thousands of low-income adults who qualify for coverage and represents a major setback for Republican Gov. Paul LePage, an ally of President Donald Trump who vetoed expansion bills on five occasions. The measure was winning 59 percent to 41 percent with roughly two-thirds of precincts reporting as of 10 p.m., according to the Associated Press, just weeks after Republicans in Congress failed in their efforts to repeal the health care law.

The ballot measure, known as Question 2, attracted progressive activists from around the country eager to revive expansion efforts in the mostly GOP-led holdout states. Liberal groups poured more than $1.5 million into boosting the Maine referendum, surpassing the opposition effort led by LePage and his Republican allies.

Some 80,000 adults will qualify under the expansion, according to independent estimates from a Maine legislative fiscal office, adding to the nearly 12 million people in the 31 states and District of Columbia who have already obtained coverage through the program.

Medicaid expansion remains controversial in states where Republicans control the governor’s mansion or state legislatures, and in recent years expansion efforts have stagnated. Of the 18 states that have not expanded their programs under Obamacare, all but Virginia and North Carolina are led by a Republican governor.

The last state before Maine to agree to expand Medicaid was Louisiana nearly two years ago, after Democrat John Bel Edwards was sworn in as governor and signed an executive order on his second day in office.

Activists are already trying to get look-alike initiatives approved for the 2018 ballot in states including Utah and Idaho, to bypass state legislators hostile to the Obamacare program that sank past efforts. That dynamic has also squashed Medicaid expansion efforts in Tennessee, Wyoming and South Dakota, where GOP governors tried and failed to get legislative backing for expansion plans. In Kansas, the GOP-controlled legislature passed legislation earlier this year only to see it vetoed by Gov. Sam Brownback.

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SOURCE: Politico, Rachana Pradhan