It’s a day of reckoning for Medicaid expansion in Maine

Good morning from Augusta, where this is the day a lot of people have been waiting for when it comes to Medicaid expansion — or dreading, as it may be for proponents worried that Gov. Paul LePage’s administration won’t follow through on last year’s expansion referendum.

It’s April 3. According to the citizen-initiated law passed by 59 percent of voters last November, it’s the deadline for the Department of Health and Human Services to submit what’s known as a state plan amendment to the federal government regarding how Maine will move forward with Medicaid expansion under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

There’s no indication it will happen. Quite to the contrary, in fact. The Republican governor has said for months that his administration won’t do anything to accommodate expansion unless the Legislature finds a way to pay for it in the long term without tax increases or using any money out of the state’s rainy day fund. LePage also demands that waitlists of elderly and disabled people waiting for social services be eliminated before expansion.

Democrats say there’s no need for a bill to provide funding because the money is already there. Though they have been asking for and not receiving financial data about the state’s Medicaid fund, supporters say there is enough money for the first year of expansion already in state coffers. In January, Assistant House Majority Leader Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, told the Bangor Daily News that there would be no battle over expansion this session, as least as far as a debate over a formal legislative proposal. Rather, he said there is enough money to fund expansion through May of next year and that LePage can expect to be sued if he doesn’t comply.

There’s disagreement about the cost. The Legislature’s fiscal office has said covering the newly eligible population will eventually cost some $55 million a year after accounting for $28 million in savings because of people moving to Medicaid from other public social service programs. The LePage administration has said the state’s annual cost will likely be at least double that and ruinous to the state’s budget.

Today’s deadline is crucial for the next deadline. Under the law, the state is supposed to start covering newly eligible Mainers by July 2 of next year. Before that happens, though, the Department of Health and Human Services is supposed to hire additional employees to handle what could be tens of thousands of Mainers signing up for the taxpayer-funded health insurance. Again, there’s no indication that has happened.

All we can do is wait to see what happens. Expect outcry from advocacy groups such as Maine Equal Justice Partners, and probably some lawmakers. After today, expect a lawsuit. Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, a gubernatorial candidate and expansion proponent, has called a news conference today at the State House but hasn’t hinted at what it’s about. We’ll keep you posted.

LePage and Eves to face off in a Boston court today

A federal appeals court will again hear the former House speaker’s ‘blackmail’ case against the governor. Former Maine House Speaker Mark Eves, who is also a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, will be in Boston on Tuesday in a continuation of the lawsuit he brought in 2015 over the Republican governor’s role in a nonprofit’s move to rescind an employment contract with Eves. The lawsuit was thrown out by an appeals court panel in 2016, but the full 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to hear it in January. That’s what happening today.

GOP gubernatorial hopefuls to debate tonight in Portland

WGME and the Bangor Daily News are hosting a Republican debate tonight. The debate will run from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. and it will stream live on the websites of WGME and the BDN. All four candidates — businessman Shawn Moody, former Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, Maine Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason and Maine House Minority Leader Ken Fredette — have confirmed that they will attend.

A bill increasing access to an overdose antidote advanced on Monday

The bill would overwrite a recent move by the Maine Board of Pharmacy and allow people under age 21 to access naloxone. The proposal from House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, was endorsed by the Legislature’s labor committee in a 10-2 vote on Monday. It would allow pharmacists to dispense naloxone to anyone at risk of an opioid overdose or who may be in a position to assist someone at risk. It’s a response to the Maine Board of Pharmacy’s recent move to raise the minimum age to 21 to get LePage’s approval for a wider set of rules.

Today in A-town

The House and Senate are in session today, as they likely will be every work day from now through April 18, the statutory adjournment date. The House calendar includes two vetoes that the Senate voted Monday to override: LD 1444 is a heavily amended bill that again tries to address solar power metering conflicts and LD 1816 deals with penalties for using bait to hunt deer.

The Senate, which toiled until after dark Monday, has a series of LePage nominations and another hunting bill veto, LD 1823, on its calendar. The House easily voted to override that veto on Monday.

At this point in the session, both chambers have long lists of unfinished business, so leaders will pick a few daily battles from those lists as they push toward adjournment.

Reading list

  • A splintered Maine Senate gave its leader broad authority to challenge ranked-choice voting in court. The Senate approved a resolution that authorizes Senate President Mike Thibodeau to enter the court battle over the ranked-choice election system approved by voters in 2016. The resolution lists a number of potential problems with ranked-choice voting beyond the wording conflict being addressed in a case brought last week to Superior Court by its supporters — a decision on which is expected today. The resolution lists concerns about who should count ballots after the first tally, who should collect ballots and the overall constitutionality of the system. Despite hours of behind-the-scenes negotiations to win support from Democrats, only three voted for the amended resolution, with some calling it a maneuver more commonly seen in “banana republics.”
  • Taxpayers will likely fund three Blaine House campaigns this year. In addition to Mason, who qualified earlier this year, independent State Treasurer Terry Hayes of Buckfield and Democratic lobbyist Betsy Sweet of Hallowell submitted qualifying donations to run as Maine Clean Elections Act gubernatorial candidates. The Maine Ethics Commission still must certify Hayes and Sweet, who stand to receive an early fundraising boon.
  • Max Linn staged some political theater Monday. While Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap is considering whether enough signatures on Linn’s ballot access paperwork were faulty to kick him out of the Republican U.S. Senate primary against state Sen. Eric Brakey, Linn held a news conference at the State House complex. Linn repeatedly called Brakey a “coward” and said if Brakey would debate him in all 16 counties by June 1, Linn will donate $25,000 to the National Rifle Association. Linn, who suggested without evidence that Brakey’s campaign somehow sabotaged his campaign with the faulty signatures, refused questions from reporters at the end of the event.
  • A candidate for district attorney has been accused of sexual abuse. The Sun Journal reported Monday that a judge granted a protection from abuse order against Seth Carey, a Rumford attorney, after a woman said he poses “imminent and present danger” to her. Carey, a Republican who represented Linn during his ballot challenge hearing, was previously sanctioned by the board that oversees Maine attorneys. The Maine Republican Party urged him to abandon his campaign for Androscoggin County district attorney.

No-bake cookies

The mystery of the woozy child-care workers took another turn Monday when Bangor police announced that tests showed no signs of intoxicants in Valentine’s Day cookies that sent some staff members at a Queen City day-care center to the hospital amid suspicions that the goodies had been laced with marijuana or some other drug.

Monday’s news spurred many more questions. Had the flour been tainted with some kind of hallucination-causing fungus, similar to what some historians theorize to be the cause of the Salem witch trial hysteria? Can bad eggs get you high? Bad butter?

How extensive were the tests, which reportedly cost $360? Did the state crime lab staff just eat the cookies and say, “We feel fine; carry on?”

And the accused culinary culprits were Valentine’s Day cookies, so did they just make those who ate them high on love? Here’s their soundtrack. And here’s a soundtrack for the rest of us. — Robert Long


In Monday’s Daily Brief, we mentioned LePage’s veto of LD 1444, a solar energy bill. According to an industry expert, the bill was amended to exclude some of the provisions we mentioned but the online version of the bill doesn’t reflect that.

Instead, the bill now contains language prohibiting gross metering, which essentially allows utility companies to tax people who generate certain amounts of electricity on their own. That bill will come up in the House today following the Senate voting 26-7 Monday to override LePage’s veto.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, Michael Shepherd and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.