Gov. Paul LePage traveled to Washington, D.C., on Thursday – his third visit to the nation’s capital in as many weeks.

This time LePage will be joined by Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, who already was in the capital, and they plan to meet with White House officials and members of Congress to urge them not to adopt any replacement for the Affordable Care Act that allows states to expand their Medicaid programs.

The Republican governor told WGAN talk radio hosts Matt Gagnon and Ken Altshuler that he opposes House Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan to repeal and replace the signature health care law of former President Obama with a watered-down version of the same policies.

“There is a whole lot of talk about repeal and replace, but you have to reform this,” LePage said. “We can’t go from Obamacare to RINO care,” LePage said, using the acronym for Republican in Name Only. “You got to go and fix it, and if you are not interested in fixing it, then leave it alone.”

LePage has five times vetoed bills passed by the Legislature that would expand Medicaid in Maine under the ACA. But his final term in office will end in January 2019 and the new Republican proposal would still allow states that haven’t expanded their Medicaid programs to do so, leveraging federal funds for it until 2020.

LePage said he wants the proposed federal law to include a work requirement for those who receive government-funded health care or he wants the law to provide health care insurance only as a “last resort” for the most vulnerable.

LePage went on to say that when Maine expanded its Medicaid program in the past, many people ditched their privately funded health insurance for the free health care being provided by the state.

“My point to Speaker Ryan is free is expensive to somebody,” LePage said. Earlier this week, LePage sent a letter to Ryan expressing his opposition to the replacement law that was a key campaign promise of President Trump. The governor said the response to that letter was an invitation to meet with Ryan and other members of the Congress and key Trump Cabinet officials, including Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price.

LePage again dismissed talks he may be pursuing a post in the Trump administration, saying his key focus at present was getting his two-year state budget proposal passed in the Legislature.

Later Thursday, during a call-in on “The Laura Ingraham Show,” LePage said that some of Maine’s Somali residents support Trump and want LePage to bring a letter to the president and have a dialogue with him, The Associated Press reported. But LePage meant to reference Maine’s Sudanese community, the governor’s spokesman said in an email Thursday afternoon.

“The governor said Somalis on Laura’s show today, but he meant Sudanese. He met with the Sudanese yesterday, as he does regularly, and they said they support Trump,” Peter Steele wrote. “The Sudanese, not the Somalis, remember George W. Bush fondly because he helped broker peace during their civil war.”

Trump’s recent executive order suspends the U.S. refugee program for 120 days, and comments the president made during a campaign stop in Portland last August drew a sharp rebuke from Somali leaders in Maine.

He singled out Somalis during a campaign event in Merrill Auditorium attended by 1,600 people in which a major theme of his speech was the perceived threats of immigration.

“We have seen many, many crimes getting worse all the time and as Maine knows, a major destination for Somali refugees,” Trump said with LePage at his side.

At the time, Mahmoud Hassan, president of the Somali Community Association of Maine, said Trump’s rhetoric “was very destructive. It is damaging to the psyche of our youth to hear a major party presidential nominee insult our culture and religion, especially while standing next to the governor of our state.”

LePage said properly vetted refugees contribute to the country. However, he also said asylum seekers who arrive with a visa and then are not allowed to work while they seek permission to stay end up costing money to support and “you don’t know what you’re getting.”

A nonprofit is now in charge of settling refugees in Maine after LePage’s administration opted out of administering the program.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: thisdog

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