Mainers for Health Care rally outside the State House prior to Gov. Paul LePage's State of the State address, Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, in Augusta, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

PORTLAND, Maine — Maine courts have agreed to hear the latest arguments about the state’s failure to enact voter-approved Medicaid expansion.

Medicaid expansion has been held up for months because of the Republican governor’s opposition over funding issues and resulting legal battles. A judge charged with addressing looming constitutional issues impacting Medicaid expansion has scheduled hearings for Sept 27-28 in Portland.

Last fall, nearly three out of five Mainers voted to expand Medicaid to 70,000 to 80,000 adults with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Maine’s top court recently upheld a lower court order requiring Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration to file paperwork needed to start rolling out Medicaid expansion. The state submitted what’s known as a state plan amendment, but the governor urged federal regulators to reject it.

Maine’s top court left looming constitutional issues about Medicaid expansion to a superior court judge, who will begin to weigh such matters at the court hearings next week.

One issue is that the voter-approved ballot measure didn’t say how Maine would pay for its share of expansion.

Pro-Medicaid expansion groups like Maine Equal Justice Partners argue that Maine, like other states, can simply rely on state general funds. Charlie Dingman, a lawyer representing the group, said he expects courts will address what should happen now that the July 2 deadline for implementing Medicaid expansion has passed and Mainers have begun applying for coverage.

“We will also be addressing the bad faith of the administration in failing to file a state plan amendment that was straightforward and designed to encourage coverage would begin,” Dingman said.

The governor’s office, meanwhile, has said the LePage administration has complied with the court order.

The governor denies estimates that expansion will save Maine tens of millions of dollars and has vowed to block Medicaid expansion until lawmakers provide funding under his terms, which include no tax hikes. He vetoed a bill to fund expansion with state surplus and one-time tobacco settlement funds.

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