Maine high court to hear Medicaid expansion case today

Good morning from Augusta. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court will hear oral arguments today on whether the administration of Gov. Paul LePage needs to submit to the federal government a plan to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, a key moment in advocates’ bid to force expansion.

It’s a fight in July about something that voters ordered done in April. When Maine voters approved Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act in 2017, they were directing the state to submit a simple plan to the federal government by April 3 and cover an estimated 70,000 Mainers by July 2. But neither has happened due to some mix of delays that involve all three branches of state government.

The Republican governor opposes expansion and vetoed a plan to provide start-up funding for the new law. Attorneys for the state are arguing that the Legislature’s failure to earmark funding for it doesn’t allow it implement the law. Advocates sued in April, saying surpluses could be used to fund the law. Now, they’re directing eligible people to apply for coverage if it’s granted.

A lower-court judge ordered the LePage administration to submit that plan in June, but the ruling was appealed to and later delayed by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court at least until it hears arguments in the case today in Portland at 1:30 p.m. We’ll be there and check back for coverage.

We’re still not sure how these applications are being handled by the state for the time being. Maybe we’ll learn more about this today, but the Maine Department of Health and Human Services hasn’t answered questions this week about how many Mainers have applied for coverage under the expansion provisions.

The department has developed an application form that asks applicants to check a box if they are signing up because of expansion, so it is apparently tracking the number of them. It has 45 days to handle Medicaid applications under normal procedures, so new applications haven’t hit that mark yet. It’s something to watch going forward.

A Democratic doctor with a famous father is running against Susan Collins

Her father was the head of an insurance giant before the federal government bailed it out in 2008 and he’s a major Republican donor. Dr. Cathleen London of Milbridge, who declared a 2020 run against U.S. Sen. Susan Collins on Monday, is a Democrat and the daughter of Hank Greenberg, the CEO of the insurance giant AIG from 1968 until he was forced out in 2005. It was bailed out in 2008.

Politico reported that Greenberg donated $10 million to a group backing Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush (who Collins endorsedin 2016. He and another former AIG executive forfeited $9.9 million to settle a long-running state corporate fraud case the next year, according to USA Today.

In an interview, London said of her father, “I don’t think I’ll be getting his endorsement.” She said her politics were defined early in life, and she and her father have “fought” about that since she was in high school. Now, she said the family doesn’t talk politics although it is close.

London has lived in Maine since 2015. She practices family medicine in Milbridge. Last year, she got attention for devising a low-cost alternative to the EpiPen. In a statement, she cited President Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court — which she says could define abortion access and voter-identification laws — and the Republican senator’s vote for her party’s tax-cut bill last year as main reasons for the early run.

“The Supreme Court decision pushed me to do this now because it can’t wait,” she said.

London is a political newcomer and likely longshot if she makes it to a race against Collins. But she’s the second person to declare a run against the senator. Republican Max Linn, a former Florida candidate barred from running for Senate here this year, has said he’ll primary her.

LePage is finishing a trip to southeastern Europe today

He is finishing up a trip to Montenegro, which has a defense partnership with Maine. The U.S. embassy in the capital of Podgorica said earlier this week the governor would be on his first visit to Montenegro from Sunday to Wednesday. He met with President Milo Djukanovic and other top officials on Monday and said in an interview with the embassy that he’d like to bolster economic ties and start Montenegrin language programs in state universities.

The Maine National Guard has had a defense partnership with Montenegro since 2006 — just after it split with Serbia — as part of a federal program that partners U.S. states with global allies. Maine and Montenegro work together on emergency management, border and economic security and counterterrorism.

Reading list

  • Prominent law firms in Maine and New York are suing Central Maine Power on behalf of more than 200 customers who believe they were overbilled. The class-action lawsuit will be filed Thursday in Portland. It’s the latest twist in a dispute that started after the utility that provide electricity for most of Maine changed its billing system late last year. Customers started noticing bill spikes soon after an October 2017 windstorm that knocked out power to a record number of accounts. The Maine Public Utilities Commission has contracted for an investigation of the billing complaints and the way the company responded to them.
  • The list of areas that LePage selected for federal tax breaks reads like a map of impending business deals and he planned it that way. The BDN’s Darren Fishell looked at each of the 32 areas picked by the governor to be Opportunity Zones under a new federal program looking to incentivize development in distressed areas. They include a J.D. Irving plan to nearly double the amount of camps on lakes near Madawaska, several businesses on the Belfast waterfront, a Portland cold storage facility and many smaller projects.
  • But the governor still has a soft spot for paper mills. He used the two discretionary Opportunity Zone designations for paper mill towns, Baileyville and Madawaska. Noticeably absent from the list of communities designated to participate in the federal tax-break program is Jay, home to a mill owned by Verso. That firm’s decision to shut its Bucksport mill and sell it for scrap angered LePage to the point of telling the company to “get out of the state of Maine.”
  • And the governor made a hefty profit on a home in Boothbay. LePage and his wife closed a $397,500 sale on a home they bought for $215,000 in 2014, according to the Lincoln County News. A Belfast man bought the property in a deal that closed on June 29.
  • A Canadian firm has proposed paying at least $1 million in rent to Bar Harbor for a ferry terminal where it wants to move The CAT. A proposal from Bay Ferries to move the ferry that moves cars between Nova Scotia and Portland — for now — was submitted to the town last week. The company has already aired plans to spend $3 million to renovate a abandoned ferry terminal on Route 3, but the proposal also said that the company would commit to paying at least $1 million in rent to the town over five years.

Brewing holy war?

In Daily Brief’s never-ending quest to keep readers up-to-date on culture, commerce and geopolitical tensions, we draw your attention to Floyds Knobs, Indiana. And not just because it’s a great name. How can Maine not have a Floyds Knobs?

Earlier this year, Robert Pappas bought 10 acres there to set up a craft brewery. Not long thereafter, controversy erupted.

One might think the problems traced to what Pappas wants to put in his beer — namely, essential oils such as frankincense and sandalwood. Eww. Why not just melt a candle and drink the wax?

But no. The problem results from Pappas’ choice for the name of his brewery. He plans to call it Our Lady of Perpetual Hops. The Archdiocese of Indianapolis objected.

“Most Catholics we talked to really liked the name,” Pappas told a local newspaper. “So … I just thought, ‘what if we called it Our Lady of Perpetual Hops?’ Because there’s a lot of Catholics in the area, and you put Catholicism and beer together and it’s usually a winning combination.”

There does appear to be precedent. St. Pauli Girl has been around since the 19th century and Twisted Spike in Oklahoma has been pouring Holy Beer without threat of excommunication as far as we can tell. Maybe the church is just trying to box out new competition for its brewing monks. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by 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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Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.