Maine voters approve Medicaid expansion

Maine Governor Paul LePage 

Gretchen Ertl/Reuters

Last Updated Nov 8, 2017 12:58 PM EST

Maine voters say they want to join 31 other states in expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, the signature health bill of former President Barack Obama.

Tuesday's referendum represented the first time since the law took effect that the question of expansion had been put in front of U.S. voters. In most states, governors or state legislatures have decided whether to expand the program. Main was one of 19 states that had refused the expansion.

The vote in Maine was a rebuke of Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who vetoed five different attempts by the state legislature to expand the program. 

Following the vote, LePage said residents of his state made an expensive mistake and that he won't implement the new Medicaid expansion until it's fully funded by the state legislature.

The referendum follows repeated failures by President Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans in Congress to repeal Obama's health care law.

Some 11 million people in the country have gotten coverage through the law's provision allowing states to expand the availability of Medicaid, a health insurance program for low-income people.

Activists on both sides of the issue are looking at the Maine initiative as a sort of national referendum on one of the key pillars of the law. Supporters in Idaho and Utah have started similar efforts to get the question on the 2018 ballots in their own states.

"This should be sending a message to the 18 other states that haven't yet expanded Medicaid," Robyn Merrill, executive director of Maine Equal Justice Partners, said in a victory speech, the Portland Press-Herald reported. "This will have national implications."