Maine voters approve Medicaid expansion in referendum

Maine voters approved Medicaid expansion in a referendum vote Tuesday night. (Getty/juststock)

Maine voters backed Medicaid expansion in the state in a referendum vote on Tuesday night, making it the first state to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act in nearly two years.

Unofficial election results collected by the Associated Press and the Portland Press Herald indicate that 59% of the 343,137 voters in 567 of 584 precincts voted in favor of the referendum to expand Medicaid in the state.

The state legislature has tried on five previous occasions to expand the state’s Medicaid program, but each was vetoed by Maine’s Republican governor, Paul LePage. An estimated 70,000 people are expected to gain insurance coverage as a result of yesterday's vote, but LePage may put up a fight. He staunchly opposes expanding the program; prior to the referendum, he sought to have it described as “welfare” on the referendum ballot.

In a statement following the vote, LePage said that Medicaid expansion will cost taxpayers in Maine millions of dollars, and will provide “free” healthcare to mostly working-age, able-bodied adults without dependents.

“Credit agencies are predicting that this fiscally irresponsible Medicaid expansion will be ruinous to Maine’s budget,” LePage said. “I will not support increasing taxes on Maine families, raiding the rainy day fund or reducing services to our elderly or disabled.”

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The last state to expand Medicaid under the ACA was Louisiana in early 2016. Thirty-two states, including Maine, and the District of Columbia have expanded the program.

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Maine voted to expand Medicaid the same day that Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma revealed plans to “turn the page” on the program. One of her main goals for retooling the program includes efforts to “streamline and improve” elements that allow states to test and change their programs.

She also said that CMS is developing scorecards that will track and publish Medicaid outcomes on the state and federal levels.

Medicaid has also been a major target of Republican efforts to repeal the ACA; proposals included ending expansion and slashing billions in federal funds from the program.