Last November 60 percent of voters approved Medicaid expansion, making Maine the first state to expand the program through a citizen-initiated referendum. Governor LePage, who has consistently opposed expansion, refused to implement the law unless the legislature approved funding for it in the amount he claimed was necessary and subject to various conditions he insisted on. His Commissioner of Health and Human Services consequently refused to submit to the federal government a state Medicaid plan amendment necessary to trigger the 90% federal share of the costs of expansion. Maine Equal Justice Partners, Consumers for Affordable Health Care, Maine Primary Care Association, Penobscot Community Health Care and five individuals sued DHHS and the LePage administration to force the administration to submit the plan and comply with the statute
On Monday, Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy ruled in favor of the petitioners, setting a June 11 deadline for the state to file the amendment with the federal government. The expansion will open up the program to approximately 70,000 Mainers who earn 138 percent of the federal poverty level ($16,753 for an individual or $34,638 for a family of four).
The Court emphatically rejected the Commissioner’s argument that DHHS could refuse to implement the statute until the Legislature appropriated additional funds, stating that “it is the Court’s role to interpret the law in the context of a controversy, such as is currently before it.” The Court went on to side with the petitioners holding that “In this case, when read as a whole, the statute is clear an unambiguous” and that its effective date was January 3, 2018. Accordingly, the state plan amendment should have been submitted by April 3, ‘no later than 90 days after the effective date,’ and gave the Commissioner one week to submit it. The decision is a strong statement that the executive branch may not, for political reasons, shirk its constitutional responsibility to faithfully execute the law.
This is a gratifying victory for 70,000 eligible Mainers who should not be delayed access to needed medically necessary and potentially life-saving medical care.
Drummond Woodsum attorneys Jamie Kilbreth and David Kallin were the lead lawyers for the Petitioners.
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