Court sets June 11 deadline for LePage to implement Medicaid expansion

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On Monday, a state judge ordered the Maine Department of Health and Gov. Paul LePage (R) to follow through on a voter-approved ballot measure and expand health care to thousands of residents, ending seven months of stonewalling.

The judge ordered the administration to submit a plan by June 11 updating the terms of its Medicaid program, which was supposed to offer coverage to new enrollees July 2.

Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy minced no words in her 13-page ruling issued Monday, which orders Gov. Paul LePage's administration to begin implementing the Medicaid expansion approved by ME voters last November.

But LePage continued to oppose it and said he would not implement the expansion until the legislature voted to fund it.

Maine Equal Justice Partners Executive Director Robyn Merrill said the LePage administration earlier hinted it would appeal such a decision.

In her ruling, Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy disagreed with the state's position that the executive branch does not have to file a plan amendment until legislative appropriations to fund the expansion have been approved. A LePage spokeswoman said the governor's office is reviewing Murphy's ruling.

LePage's Department of Health and Human Services argued that the courts shouldn't weigh in on a legislative spending decision.

The governor said he wouldn't move ahead until state lawmakers found a way to fund the state's share of the cost - it will reach 10 percent in 2020 and beyond - without raising taxes on families or businesses, using one-time budget "gimmicks" or raiding a budget-stabilization fund. An estimated 70,000 people with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty level would qualify for coverage under the Affordable Care Act-authorized expansion. "Thanks to today's ruling, Gov. Paul LePage will finally be forced to respect the will of Maine's voters, who voted overwhelmingly to expand Medicaid last November".

This marks the second victory in under a week for Medicaid expansion advocates.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, also hailed the court's ruling, saying, "The order is clear: The LePage administration can not veto Maine's voter-approved Medicaid expansion law".