- Associated Press - Monday, June 8, 2015

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it would stay out of a dispute between Gov. Paul LePage and the federal government over whether Maine can eliminate Medicaid coverage for thousands of low-income young adults.

The justices’ refusal to hear the case means LePage’s administration must adhere to a lower court’s ruling to continue providing health coverage to about 6,500 19- and 20-year olds until at least 2019 in order to maintain federal funding for the program.

The Republican governor appealed to the Supreme Court in February after the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that rolling back coverage for that age group was illegal because President Barack Obama’s health care law prohibits states from shrinking coverage levels for children until 2019. Maine has covered 19-and-20-year-olds - who are considered children in the Medicaid program - for more than two decades.

LePage hired a private attorney to fight the case because Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, declined to represent the governor in the case and even joined opponents to fight it.

The administration has paid more than $88,000 in legal fees, according to a document provided to The Associated Press on Monday in a Freedom of Access Act request. Another roughly $20,000 in payments is pending.

A spokeswoman for LePage declined to make the governor available for comment after he spoke at an unrelated event on Monday. Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said she was “deeply disappointed” by the decision.

The administration “will continue to work tirelessly to reform Maine’s Medicaid program to prioritize our elderly and severely disabled neighbors instead of able-bodied young adults,” Mayhew said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who opposed the governor’s effort, said she’s pleased that the “uncertainty caused by this long legal battle has finally ended for young people who would have been impacted.”

The Supreme Court declines to hear about 99 percent of the roughly 10,000 cases it is asked to consider every year.

LePage sought to erase coverage for young adults who earn less than about $1,500 a month or $2,600 a month, depending on whether they live alone or with their parents.

The administration said the federal government shouldn’t be able to force Maine to keep the young adults on the rolls because the court previously ruled that states can’t be forced to expand their Medicaid programs.

But federal officials contended the justices didn’t need to weigh in because there was no disagreement between the lower courts to be resolved and no other states have joined Maine’s challenge to the requirement. They noted that “even Maine’s own attorney general has disavowed” the state’s challenge.

Mills said Monday that she felt all along that the case had little legal merit. She also stressed the importance of providing health coverage to this group.

“Many of these young Mainers are in transition from childhood to adulthood, are working at the corner store, the big box stores, the gas stations and the donut shops, trying to make a living in this state,” she said in a statement. “If they break a leg, if they are hit by a car or if they require hospitalization, they have no way to pay for it. No other insurance is available except the safety net of MaineCare.”

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Follow Alanna Durkin at https://www.twitter.com/aedurkin


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