2018-03-06 / Opinion

Threatening Access for More Than 160,000 Mainers, LePage Joins ACA Suit


Since being signed into law by President Obama in 2010, the Affordable Care Act has allowed tens of millions of people across the country — and nearly 80,000 people in Maine — to access health insurance, and, by extension, affordable health care. Although it was wounded in a landmark 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case that upheld the constitutionality of the law but enabled states to opt out of its Medicaid expansion, the ACA has largely survived — even after Republicans swept back into power in 2016.

Most will recall the dramatic fights last year to keep President Donald Trump and Congress from repealing and replacing the law, a fight that was won after thousands of Maine voters pushed Republican Sen. Susan Collins to join two other Republican senators in voting against the bill, effectively killing the repeal effort. Though Congress was later able to weaken the law by reducing the cost of the so-called individual mandate provision of the law to zero (essentially keeping the ACA’s legal mandate to purchase health insurance on the books but removing any actual fee for not doing so from the tax code), enrollment has remained steady, and the law has actually become more popular.

All of which makes the most recent actions of Gov. Paul LePage the more obnoxious.

Last week, LePage joined 19 Republican-controlled states in filing a federal lawsuit once again challenging the legality of the ACA. The suit is using the zeroing out of the individual mandate to revisit the 2012 Supreme Court ruling upholding the law, which hinged on the Court defining the individual mandate as a “tax” as opposed to a “penalty.” Basically, the lawsuit argues that reducing the individual mandate to zero changes it from a tax to a penalty, making that provision — and by extension the entire law, they argue — unconstitutional.

While LePage was forced to sign on to the lawsuit as an individual because Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate and consistent thorn in the governor’s side, refused to sign onto the lawsuit, LePage has effectively thrown Maine into a battle that Mainers have clearly demonstrated they want no part of.

After vetoing five separate attempts to expand the state’s Medicaid program under the ACA,

LePage was forced to stand by and watch as Mainers overwhelmingly approved Medicaid expansion by citizen initiative last year. Rather than accept the expressed will of the people, however, LePage has vowed to use what little time and political capital he has remaining in his term to fight the expansion of Medicaid, and apparently, the Affordable Care Act itself.

Nearly 80,000 Mainers have already benefited from this law, and over 80,000 more will be able to access affordable health care through Medicaid expansion. Together, those Mainers directly affected by the future of the ACA comprise over ten percent of the state’s population. Although experts doubt that the lawsuit will ultimately kill the law, the stakes are high. That the health, financial well-being, and ultimately the lives of these tens of thousands of people would be held hostage by our embittered, outgoing governor is an unconscionable proposition. We deserve better.

The preceding originally appeared on mainebeacon.com, a website and podcast created by progressive group the Maine People’s Alliance.

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