Maine residents on Election Day voted to extend Medicaid coverage to an estimated 70,000 of their neighbors by overwhelmingly approving a ballot initiative 59 percent to 41 percent with two-thirds of precincts reporting their vote tallies, according to The Associated Press via the Portland Press Herald.
The outcome of the vote on Maine’sQuestion 2is a win for those low-income Mainers who had been unable to access health coverage through the program, called MaineCare in the Pine Tree State, and a political loss for Gov.Paul LePage(R), who led the public opposition to the ballot initiative after vetoing five bipartisan bills to achieve the same outcome since 2013.
The decision by Mainers toextend health coverageto about 70,000 people ― which is more than live in Portland, the largest city in the state ― stands in contrast to efforts at the national level by President Donald Trump and the GOP to repeal the Affordable Care Act and significantly scale back programs that help people get covered.
That law called for a nationwide Medicaid expansion to anyone earning up to 133 percent of thefederal poverty level, which is about $16,000 for a single person and $33,000 for a family of four. TheSupreme Court, however, ruled in 2012 that states could opt out of the expansion.
After Maine’s vote, there are still 18 states that haven’t adopted the policy, andmore than 2 million peopleare uninsured as a consequence.
The effort to put Medicaid expansion on the ballot in Maine began on Election Day a year ago. Since then,Mainers for Health Care, a coalition of groups supporting expansion, waged a statewide public awareness, outreach and advertising campaign to win over voters. LePage and his allies did the same througha political action committee they foundedcalled Welfare to Work.
The Maine Medicaid expansion won the endorsements ofdozens of organizationsin the state, including the Maine Hospital Association, the Maine Medical Association, the Maine State Nurses Association and the state chapters of national organizations like the American College of Physicians and the American Nurses Association.
Medicaid expansion became the law of the land in Maine with the outcome of Tuesday’s vote, but the benefits won’t be available to eligible residents until the middle of next year at the soonest, Robyn Merrill, a spokeswoman for Mainers for Health Care and executive director of the legal aid organizationMaine Equal Justice Partners, said in an interview beforeElection Day.
The Maine legislature now must develop a plan to pay for the state’s share of the cost of Medicaid expansion. Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government paysat least 90 percentof the expense and states must pick up the rest.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.