(Reuters) – Maine Governor Paul LePage said on Wednesday he would not carry out an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program under Obamacare that was approved by voters unless it was fully funded by the legislature, calling it “ruinous” for the state’s budget.
About 60 percent of voters in Maine approved the ballot proposal in Tuesday’s election, according to the Bangor Daily News, making the state the first in the country to vote to expand Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor and disabled.
LePage, a Republican, has staunchly opposed expansion of the program, vetoing legislation to do so on several occasions.
In a statement, the governor said he would not implement the expansion until it was fully funded by the Maine legislature, where control is split between Republicans and Democrats.
“Credit agencies are predicting that this fiscally irresponsible Medicaid expansion will be ruinous to Maine’s budget,” LePage said in a statement. “I will not support increasing taxes on Maine families, raiding the rainy day fund or reducing services to our elderly or disabled.”
LePage said a previous Medicaid expansion in Maine in 2002 created $750 million in debt to hospitals and took resources away from vulnerable people.
Maine Senate Democratic leader Troy Jackson said in a statement that the governor “has the power to put up roadblocks to prevent implementation of the voter-approved Medicaid expansion referendum, and I have no reason to believe he won’t continue to do as he has always done.”
Jackson added that Democrats “are determined to use every tool at our disposal to ensure the will of the voters is upheld.”
Maine voters were asked to approve or reject a plan to provide healthcare coverage under Medicaid for adults under age 65 with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which in 2017 is about $16,000 for a single person and about $22,000 for a family of two.
If implemented, about 70,000 additional state residents would be eligible for the Medicaid program, local media reported, in addition to the roughly 268,000 people who are currently eligible.
Maine has been prominent in the national healthcare debate. U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from the state, helped block her party’s efforts to repeal Obamacare, enacted under former Democratic President Barack Obama and formally known as the Affordable Care Act.
Collins said on Wednesday she never took a position on state referendum questions, but was surprised at LePage’s statement.
“I’m not going to comment on what the governor should or should not do”, Collins told reporters. “I think it’s significant that healthcare was such a prominent issue and I believe when you look at the overwhelming vote in my state (on) the Medicaid expansion that it shows that Republicans need to put forth constructive legislation.”
Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Additional reporting by Amanda Becker in Washington; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney