Maine took an unprecedented step Tuesday when residents overwhelmingly voted to expand the state's Medicaid program—but Gov. Paul LePage quickly said he'd block the immediate implementation of the expansion. A statement Wednesday says the referendum, which was approved by a margin of 59% to 41% and would make as many as 80,000 more lower-income residents eligible for insurance coverage through Medicaid, would "cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars to give 'free' health care to working-age, able-bodied adults, most of whom do not have dependents." LePage, a Republican who has blocked Medicaid expansion five times already, says in the statement that the state's last Medicaid expansion in 2002 resulted in $750 million worth of debt to hospitals and "massive budget shortfalls every year," while not reducing the number of uninsured residents.
As for this expansion, he says credit agencies predict it "will be ruinous to Maine's budget," and his administration will therefore refuse to implement it "until it has been fully funded by the Legislature at the levels DHHS has calculated, and I will not support increasing taxes on Maine families, raiding the rainy day fund, or reducing services to our elderly or disabled." Business Insider says it's "unclear" whether LePage can actually block the expansion; in Maine, all adopted ballot measures became law 45 days after they're passed. Prior to the governor's statement, the New York Times reported that while he doesn't have the power to veto the referendum, he could attempt to delay its implementation during his final year in office. The Washington Post says if Maine residents aren't ultimately allowed to enroll in Medicaid under the expansion, a legal battle could ensue with LePage potentially getting sued. (Read more Paul LePage stories.)