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 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.
In urging the justices to hear that case, the administration said that the federal government can't force Maine to keep the young adults on the rolls because the court has previously ruled that states can't be forced to expand their Medicaid programs.
But federal officials said there was no need for the justices 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.
Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, declined to represent the governor in the case and even joined opponents to fight the administration's request. She said she didn't think the administration could win and that the case would be a waste of time and money.
LePage hired a private attorney and as of January had spent $53,000 on legal fees, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Access Act. The administration has not yet responded to a request by the AP for an updated figure.