An advocacy group filed objections in Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday to the LePage administration’s request that the deadline for filing a Medicaid expansion plan be pushed back..

Voters approved Medicaid expansion by a 59 percent to 41 percent margin in 2017, but the LePage administration – a staunch opponent – has refused to implement it, arguing that the Legislature first needs to come up with funding to pay for it.

Maine Equal Justice Partners, an Augusta-based advocacy group that campaigned for expansion, filed a lawsuit aimed at compelling the administration to implement the expansion, which would make about 70,000 lower-income Mainers eligible for Medicaid health coverage.

As the courts consider legal arguments, lawmakers are grappling with how to fund Medicaid expansion in a special session this week.

The Maine House voted 78-58 Tuesday – with three Republicans joining Democrats – to spend $58.8 million to fund Medicaid expansion, but the margin fell short of veto-proof. The measure now goes to the Senate. LePage’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

After the House vote, state Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, House chair of the Appropriations Committee, said the Legislature is on its way to funding expansion, so the LePage administration should act.

“It’s time to put to rest this debate, to make the necessary funds available and to stop fighting about expansion and start realizing the health and economic benefits,” Gattine said.

Kennebec County Superior Court has ruled that the LePage administration must file a State Plan Amendment with the federal government by June 11, one of the first steps toward implementing expansion. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services failed to meet the deadline, and appealed.

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The LePage administration also asked for a stay while the legal fight plays out. The Superior Court rejected the stay request Friday and the administration appealed that ruling Monday to the Maine supreme court.

NO GROUNDS FOR STAY, GROUP SAYS

Maine Equal Justice argued Tuesday that Maine Department of Health and Human Services has no grounds to request a stay, and that Medicaid expansion must be implemented by July 2.

“It is an exceptional circumstance for an agency to flagrantly flout the law and have to be ordered to comply by a court. The underlying legal issue on the merits is quite simple: when a statute mandates that the Commissioner (of health and human services) take an action, must he comply. The answer, of course, is yes,” according to the legal brief filed Tuesday.

Maine Equal Justice argued that state government already has staffing in place to begin accepting applications, and that the state has money available to begin enrolling eligible Mainers. Because LePage is termed out, there will be a new governor in office when the next Legislature convenes in January. Republican nominee Shawn Moody will face a Democrat, likely either Attorney General Janet Mills or Adam Cote, as well as independent candidates. If the court case is delayed long enough or rulings start going in the administration’s favor, it may fall to the next governor to implement expansion.

Medicaid expansion would cost Maine $45 million in its first full year of implementation, according to the nonpartisan state Office of Fiscal and Program Review. The state would receive more than $500 million in federal funds annually to cover the rest of the cost. Those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, $16,753 for an individual and $34,638 for a family of four, would become eligible under the expansion.

The LePage administration argued Monday that it cannot implement Medicaid expansion unless the Legislature appropriates funding.

“This case raises tremendously consequential and far-reaching issues regarding the separation of powers and Maine’s long-term fiscal health,” Patrick Strawbridge, the attorney hired by LePage to represent the state, wrote in his appeal to the high court. “The Superior Court’s order required the (Health and Human Services) commissioner to make a binding commitment to the federal government to expand the state’s Medicaid program even though none of the necessary funding or staffing to effectuate the expansion has been appropriated by the Legislature.”

But in legal filings Tuesday, Maine Equal Justice countered that funding is a separate issue.

“The Legislative mandate is unambiguous,” according to the filing. “The Superior Court’s mandamus injunction is equally clear. The (health and human services) commissioner must submit this simple state plan amendment without further delay.”

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

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