AUGUSTA — Republican Gov. Paul LePage says he’ll continue denying applications for aid under a voter-approved Medicaid expansion until lawmakers provide funding under his terms.

Advocates who are suing to force Maine to roll out Medicaid expansion have encouraged Mainers to apply for Medicaid this summer. But LePage said the plan is to deny those applications “until they’re funded.”

“All they got to do is give me the money and everything’s going to be fine,” he told The Associated Press. “I don’t know why the Legislature refuses to acknowledge that Medicaid is not free.”

Nearly three out of five Maine voters last November supported expanding Medicaid to an additional 70,000 to 80,000 low-income residents starting July 2. Both houses of the Maine Legislature voted in June to approve funding to extend Medicaid, but LePage vetoed the bill because he said the funding was based on “gimmicks.”

The measure would have funneled about $60 million to help fund the expansion, which is paid for largely by the federal government. The veto override vote of 85-58 fell 11 votes short of the two-thirds threshold that would have been needed to override LePage, with House Republicans siding with the governor.

The veto marked the seventh time during his two terms in the Blaine House that LePage – with the backing of minority House Republicans, many of them first elected with him in 2010 – had been able to thwart legislative efforts to expand the state and federally funded health insurance program for the poor.

The LePage administration was forced to submit a Medicaid expansion plan this month under a court order. But LePage also urged the federal government to reject the plan.

The administration previously had declined to comment on its plans for handling Medicaid applicants. Maine Equal Justice Partners, an advocacy group for low-income residents, is suing the state for failing to implement expansion. The group has said it is unaware of any expansion applicant who has been granted benefits.

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The group’s executive director, Robyn Merrill, has said the group hopes that Mainers who have applied for Medicaid expansion could eventually receive retroactive coverage.

Medicaid expansion could eventually send roughly $500 million in annual federal funding to Maine. But Maine’s voter-approved law doesn’t include a way for Maine to pay $54 million to $62 million for its annual share of expansion after projected savings.

The bill LePage vetoed this summer would have funded hiring over 100 new staffers to roll out Medicaid expansion and would have used budgetary surplus and one-time tobacco settlement funds to make sure Maine has enough money for its share of expansion’s first year.

LePage has warned lawmakers that they couldn’t raise taxes, rely on budgetary gimmicks or dip into the state’s rainy day fund to pay for Maine’s share of expansion. Critics, including Democrats, say the governor has no legal justification for such demands.

The governor informally floated the idea of raising taxes on hospitals to pay for Maine’s share of expansion, but there was no legislative hearing. The governor told the AP that he brought up the idea to lawmakers, but they rejected it.

“They shot it down,” LePage said. “I asked them. They said, ‘If you put it up, we’re going to kill it.’ So I didn’t put it up.”

Press Herald Staff Writer Scott Thistle contributed to this report.

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