Governor Janet Mills signs an Executive Order on Thursday in Augusta directing the Department of Health and Human Services to move forward with Medicaid expansion. SUBMITTED PHOTO

AUGUSTA — On her first official day on the job, Governor Janet Mills has kept one of her campaign promises. On Thursday, the day after she was sworn in as Maine’s first female governor, she signed Executive Order Number 1, directing the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to begin implementation of Medicaid expansion.

In November 2017, Maine voters approved a referendum to expand Medicaid, as allowed by the federal Affordable Care Act, that could provide health insurance to about 70,000 low-income Mainers. During his tenure in office, which began in January 2011 and ended when Mills took over Thursday, former Republican Governor Paul LePage vetoed legislation to implement the Medicaid expansion the majority of Maine voters approved.

On Thursday, Mills, a Democrat, said she was sending a letter that day to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Seema Verma requesting the formal approval of the State Plan Amendments filed by the previous administration and amended today.

“More than a year ago, the people of Maine voted to expand Medicaid. Today, my Administration is taking the long-awaited steps to fulfill their will,” Mills said. “I am directing my Administration to begin implementing Medicaid expansion as quickly and as efficiently as possible so that we can help more Maine people access the health care they need. Expanding health care and lowering the cost for Maine people and small businesses is a top priority of my administration, and I look forward to working with the Legislature to achieve that goal.”

The Executive Order directs the Department of Health and Human Services to make changes to process the applications of Mainers seeking health care coverage under Medicaid expansion, including amending the filings of the previous administration to reflect the accurate date of implementation and to seek the earliest possible approvals as allowed under the expansion act. Under the Order, the Department will adopt all rules as established in the Expansion Act before the Feb. 1 deadline ordered by the Superior Court.

The court set the Feb. 1 deadline to begin enrolling people in the expanded Medicaid program in response to a lawsuit against the LePage administration filed by the Maine Equal Justice Partners, the organization behind the 2017 referendum. The suit sought the implementation of the expanded program and the court agreed.

As part of the Executive Order, DHHS will partner with health care providers, patients, and other stakeholders to create an outreach strategy to help enroll eligible Mainers as quickly as possible.

In addition, the Legislature is being tasked with finding a sustainable  funding source to pay for the state’s portion of Medicaid expansion.

— Associate Editor Dina Mendros can be contacted at 780-9014 or [email protected]. Portland Press Herald Staff Writer Joe Lawler contributed to this report.

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