Good morning from Augusta. Gov. Paul LePage will continue his fight against Medicaid expansion after a judge ordered him last week to implement the voter-approved program and it could last virtually until Attorney General Janet Mills assumes his office on Jan. 2.
Mills, a Democrat who has been the Republican governor’s main foil during their nearly six overlapping years in Augusta, has vowed to implement expansion in one of her first acts as governor, which could provide coverage to an estimated 70,000 Mainers.
But there are still a lot of mechanical parts to maneuver before that happens and potential daylight on the issue between Mills and advocates for expansion. Here’s how the changing of Maine’s Blaine House guard could affect the expansion.
Would the feds have to approve Maine’s expansion before it is implemented? A court says no, but Mills is cagey. The lawsuit against the LePage administration from advocates led by the progressive Maine Equal Justice Partners has wound its way through the court system since late April. It has already led to some big decisions, including Maine Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy’s on Wednesday and others that made the state file a plan with the administration of President Donald Trump.
The LePage administration has used private attorneys after Mills’ office declined to represent it in the case. While the attorney general’s office has largely bolstered advocates’ case, it agreed with the LePage administration on a key point, saying that if expansion is allowed to move forward, it should be contingent on federal approval of the submitted plan.
Murphy rejected that argument in her ruling, which ordered the state adopt rules by Dec. 5 that would provide coverage retroactive to July 2. She said awaiting approval would be inconsistent with the voter-approved law and that states can get federal reimbursement without it.
During her campaign, Mills vowed to implement expansion on “day one” of her administration. After being asked on Monday about federal approval, Mills spokesman Scott Ogden gave a more couched statement, saying she will “immediately take steps to expand Medicaid” by “seeking retroactive approval” of the plan.
If Murphy’s ruling stands, expansion will likely begin without the plan winning federal approval and that’s what advocates want. Charlie Dingman, an attorney for Maine Equal Justice Partners, said he didn’t know if there was “daylight” between Mills’ and advocates’ positions, but there may be “wiggle room to create daylight” after the statement.
“I think the court is right and I think that the governor-elect will agree with it in due course but may not have gotten there yet,” he said.
Long-term funding for expansion is still going to be an issue. A sustainable funding mechanism for Medicaid expansion has been the issue that LePage has used to hold up the law approved by voters in 2017 essentially since the day after that election, when he said he wouldn’t accept any funding plan that raised taxes or raided reserve funds. He vetoed a short-term plan partially engineered by Mills earlier this year.
If expansion is implemented without federal approval of the plan, there could be a lag in receiving federal matching funds. Even if those are secured, the Legislature’s fiscal office estimates the state’s annual share of expansion costs at $54.5 million.
Either way, Mills and the new Democratic-controlled Legislature will have to chart a path toward long-term funding for Medicaid expansion that will interface with the governor-elect’s pledge to not raise taxes in her first two-year budget. Ogden said Mills would “work with the Legislature to fund expansion in an appropriate and sustainable manner.”
Recount deadline is today in Maine’s 2nd District
The incumbent who lost in a ranked-choice voting count that he is challenging must ask for a recount by day’s end if he wants one. U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, the Republican who lost his seat in the 2nd Congressional District to Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden, a Democrat, after a historic ranked-choice voting count earlier this month, has until Monday’s end to request a recount from Secretary of State Matt Dunlap’s office.
Poliquin’s spokesman and strategist didn’t respond to a Monday request for comment on whether he would request one by today’s deadline. Since Poliquin lost by a margin of more than one percentage point, his campaign would have to pay a deposit and bear the cost of the recount unless it changes the outcome, according to state law.
The congressman was challenging the voting method on constitutional and other grounds in U.S. District Court when the outcome was revealed, but Judge Lance Walker denied his request to stop the ranked-choice count and declare him the winner on that same day.
Walker will hear constitutional arguments for and against ranked-choice voting on Dec. 5, but his earlier decision appeared to present a difficult legal path for Poliquin. In it, the judge said the Republican hadn’t demonstrated a likelihood that he could prove constitutional harm.
— A Maine couple’s road to addiction recovery was paved by this for-profit group that relies on medication-assisted treatment. Heather and Rodney Auger, of Old Orchard Beach, struggled jointly with addictions to prescription painkillers and later heroin for the better part of their seven-year marriage. But their involvement with Groups Recover Together, a rapidly growing for-profit chain of addiction treatment clinics out of New Hampshire that provides patients affordable access to weekly group therapy and a prescription to drugs like Suboxone, gave them their life back.
— Maine’s U.S. Senators rebuke President Donald Trump on Saudi Arabia and its role in the killing of a Washington Post journalist. On CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday, U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, pushed back against Trump and agreed with the CIA’s assessment that the country’s crown prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. “You don’t have to be the CIA to put things together and say how could this happen without the prince being involved. He’s in total control,” King said. Later Sunday, Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins took to Twitter, calling Trump’s decision to ignore the CIA’s report a “grave mistake” and urged Congress to act, instead, if Trump doesn’t change his position. The pair’s responses came days after Trump shrugged off the CIA’s findings and defended Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, saying, “I will tell you this: The crown prince hates it more than I do, and they have vehemently denied it.”
— A law allowing Maine towns and cities to regulate their own food systems is taking root one year later. More than 40 communities have adopted ordinances allowing them to incorporate the food sovereignty law, which gives communities power to regulate local food production, processing, consumption and direct producer-consumer exchanges, all of which are aren’t typically handled at the local level. The ordinances allow producers direct access to consumers without the bureaucratic red tape of state and federal licensing rules. Food sovereignty advocates like Heather Retberg said the law is only gaining in popularity. “It’s real now. [People] can feed themselves with their neighbors [and] grow their food and farm enterprises toward greater economic reliance one farmer, one baker, one jam kitchen at a time.”
— No Republicans are vying to fill the position to be vacated by Mills. Democrats, who will control the state House, Senate and governor’s mansion after the November election, are going to be allowed to pick the next attorney general without token opposition from Republicans, who say they won’t run a candidate. Hopefuls include Sen. Mike Carpenter, departing Sen. Mark Dion, Rep. Aaron Frey, Maeghan Maloney, the district attorney in Kennebec and Somerset counties, and Portland attorney Tim Shannon.
Good morning from Augusta (actually)
We try not to lie to you here at the Daily Brief, but one of our conventions may be construed as such. Virtually every day for the past few years, we open with “Good morning from Augusta,” even though we’re almost writing the newsletter from home.
For me, that was Gardiner. Robert works from home in Richmond. The late, great Chris Cousins was in Woolwich until the very end of his life, when he was in South Paris. Alex was writing from Bangor until her recent move to Belfast.
But now, we’re not lying. I closed on a house in Augusta earlier this month and I have navigated the snow and holidays to finally move in. Here’s your soundtrack and we’re sorry if you’re hurt by our lies. — Michael Shepherd
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd and Alex Acquisto. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.
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