Gov. Paul LePage is warning lawmakers that he’ll oppose nearly any method they propose to pay for the expansion of Medicaid that voters in the state approved last month.
In a letter to legislative leaders, LePage specifies that he would not support cuts in services to the elderly and disabled, any new taxes or the use of any money from the rainy-day fund or any current surplus. While he did not explicitly threaten a veto over use of those sources, the implication was clear.
The letter was similar in tone to a radio address on expansion he delivered a few weeks ago.
“I refuse to take money away from my nursing homes or put vulnerable people on waitlists to pay for Medicaid for able-bodied adults that should be working,” he says.
LePage has opposed expansion of Medicaid throughout his seven years in office, and has successfully vetoed measures passed by the Legislature. He has consistently criticized the cost of an expansion.
In his letter, he warns there are no extra funds in the state’s largest agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, that could be reallocated to pay for the expansion, which will cost at least $54 million in its first full year — and LePage believes the price tag will be significantly higher.
“I refuse to raise your taxes. Maine is a poor state. We cannot count on our economy to generate new revenues to cover expansion,” he says.
House Speaker Sara Gideon, a Democrat from Freeport, has long supported expansion. She says the voters endorsed the expansion of Medicaid at referendum and that it will be carried out, despite the governor’s threats to veto certain funding mechanisms the Legislature might consider.
“The person who is writing four-page letters telling us every way that we cannot do it is a person living in a taxpayer-funded house with taxpayer-funded health care,” she says.
Gideon says the expansion is already state law, and she expects LePage’s administration to start taking steps in February to begin rulemaking to implement the expansion to about 80,000 Mainers.
In his letter, LePage said DHHS will need to hire about 100 new workers and train them before the expansion can proceed. Gideon says lawmakers will not tolerate unwarranted delays in implementation.
“It must be hard to be a person who simply says no and looks for ways to make sure that others don’t have health care, don’t have access to a doctor, to make sure the state doesn’t receive a half billion dollars injected into the economy that comes when this Medicaid expansion happens,” she says.
The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee meets Wednesday to review implementation deadlines and options to fund the expansion. Gideon says it’s not been clear when the state will have to pay for the expansion and how much it will cost as part of the current two-year budget.