AUGUSTA — Attorney General Janet Mills’ office is declining to represent Gov. Paul LePage in a lawsuit seeking to compel his administration to expand Medicaid to cover more people in Maine.

On Monday, one of the organizations behind the successful ballot-box campaign to expand Medicaid sued because the LePage administration has yet to take steps to follow the law passed by voters. Maine Equal Justice Partners claims that failure to expand Medicaid – known as MaineCare in the state – by the July 2 deadline set by the voter-approved law will cause harm to tens of thousands of low-income individuals who would be eligible for coverage.

But LePage has said he will not expand the program until lawmakers provide a sustainable way to cover the estimated $45 million to $55 million in annual state costs.

In a brief letter to LePage’s chief legal counsel, Chief Deputy Attorney General Linda Pistner granted the administration’s request to hire a private attorney, Patrick Strawbridge, to defend the Maine Department of Health and Human Services against the lawsuit. State law requires the governor to seek authorization from the attorney general to hire outside counsel – a process that has infuriated LePage, who has clashed repeatedly with Mills.

“We respond to your request in the affirmative,” Pistner wrote in her May 1 letter to chief legal counsel Madeline Malisa. “In addition, this office reserves all statutory and common law authority to take whatever position the public interest requires in the pending litigation.”

This is not the first time that Mills – a Democrat seeking her party’s nomination for governor – has declined to represent the LePage administration in lawsuits. Earlier this spring, Mills cited the “public interest” in deciding to not only refuse to defend the administration in a lawsuit to reopen the Downeast Correctional Facility but to also join Washington County and labor union officials in their fight against the governor. Mills has also declined LePage’s requests to file legal briefs on the state’s behalf in support of President Trump’s controversial immigration policies.

Nor is Mills’ decision on the Medicaid expansion lawsuit surprising.

On her gubernatorial campaign website, Mills states that “as Attorney General, I’m fully committed to ensuring Medicaid expansion is implemented now, in accordance with the will of the people.”

In an interview this week, Mills also criticized DHHS officials for failing to meet the April 3 deadline to file an “amendment” plan for expanding Medicaid with federal officials.

“I believe the commissioner should have filed a state plan amendment by now,” Mills said. “It can be a fairly straightforward thing, from what I’ve seen, and filing a state plan amendment shouldn’t cost anything, … and they should be gearing up to hire the enrollment specialists. Here it is May; we have less than two months or exactly two months before people are going to start enrolling.”

LePage has steadfastly rejected all previous attempts to expand Medicaid, as allowed under the Affordable Care Act, because he argues it will end up costing the state sorely despite a federal commitment to pay 90 percent of the costs.

In a radio address last month, LePage slammed Democratic lawmakers for attempting to pass a budget measure to provide $3.8 million to hire those additional staff but not paying the full expansion costs.

“Folks, when funds are allocated by the Legislature to pay for an existing program’s budgeted expenses, it is irresponsible and illegal to use those funds for a program’s expansion – for which zero funds have been allocated – when there’s not enough money to pay the bills for the full year,” LePage said in the April 13 address. “This mentality created the last financial disaster when Maine expanded Medicaid in 2002. We ended up owing hospitals $750 million, and the state lurched from budget crisis to budget crisis every year.”

Democrats and Medicaid expansion supporters, meanwhile, argue there is ample money available to cover this year’s expansion costs and next year’s could be dealt with as part of the next two-year budget. Mills has also floated the idea of using $35 million in addition legal settlement money with tobacco companies to help pay for expansion.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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