While Democrats rode anti-Trump backlash to victories across the country in Tuesday’s off-year elections, the biggest policy news of the evening may have come from Maine, where voters passed a referendum to expand the state’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. The ballot measure won easily, with roughly 59 percent in favor with 90 percent reporting.
Maine will become the 32nd state in the country to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, and the first since President Trump took office. At least 80,000 adults could now become eligible for the program, according to the Maine Office of Fiscal and Program Review.
Maine’s legislature had previously passed legislation to expand Medicaid on five separate occasions, only to be vetoed each time by Republican Governor Paul LePage—the trollish proto-Trump figure you may best remember for the time he complained about drug dealers named “D-money, Smoothie, Shifty” selling heroin and impregnating white women in his state. LePage opposed the ballot initiative, complaining that it would be a burden on the state budget (the federal government is scheduled to cover 90 percent of the cost of state Medicaid expansions in the future, so states are expected to receive far more than they spend). One could interpret Tuesday’s vote as a political rebuke not only to him, but also the national GOP’s attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
It’s possible that LePage will try to “slow-walk” Maine’s official application to expand Medicaid, as Emma Sandoe, a former spokeswoman at the Department of Health and Human Services under Obama, notes. But even if he tries to delay the process, a large number of Mainers should eventually be in line to get free health care.
Maine’s vote also marks the first time a state has passed the Medicaid expansion through a referendum, and some are speculating it could set a template for activists in other states. Groups are already organizing to get the issue on the ballot in Utah and Idaho.
So what did we learn tonight? People don’t particularly like Donald Trump right now. But they do like free health care.