Three ruby-red states voted Tuesday to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, meaning more than 300,000 people will be eligible for taxpayer-funded insurance once Republican governors begin drawing down federal funds.
Nebraska voters kicked things off by approving their ballot measure with 53 percent of the vote, followed by Idaho with 61 percent support and then Utah, where 54 percent backed the idea.
It’s a big victory for Obamacare supporters in some of the reddest parts in the country. The effort comes one year after GOP plans to scrap the 2010 health law fell into tatters, opening the door for Democrats and progressive allies to campaign in support of the program.
“This election proves that politicians who fought to repeal the Affordable Care Act got it wrong. Americans want to live in a country where everyone can go to the doctor without going bankrupt,” said Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of The Fairness Project, a nonprofit group that gathered signatures to get the measures on ballots. “Expanding access to health care isn’t a blue state value or a red state value; it’s an American value.”
Montana voters were rejecting a ballot measure that would raise tobacco taxes to fund its expansion — 55 percent to 45 percent — though voters were still being counted early Wednesday. If the measure fails, the state will have to find a different way to fund its expansion or risk allowing coverage to expire for 90,000.
Elsewhere, Kansans rejected Republican Kris Kobach and elected Democrat Laura Kelly as their next governor, boosting expansion’s prospects in that state after Republican Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed the state legislature’s previous attempt.
In Wisconsin, Democrat Tony Evers edged out Republican Scott Walker for governor after campaigning on Medicaid expansion.
On the flip side, Republican Ron DeSantis’ win dented hopes of expanding Medicaid in a big prize for supporters — Florida — anytime soon.
Medicaid expansion has been the quiet workhorse of President Barack Obama’s law, extending coverage to roughly 12 million people across 33 states and the District of Columbia. States must pay a growing share of the cost of expansion, though it will not exceed 10 percent in 2020 or beyond.
Republicans in holdout states say that’s still too expensive, and they fear the federal government changing the deal to make it even worse.
Their reluctance, plus Republicans’ inability to repeal and replace Obamacare, inspired activists to put the measure directly before voters.
Until Tuesday, only Maine had embraced expansion it through a referendum.
Departing Maine Gov. Paul LePage has held up the implementation of the effort, approved November 2017, saying legislators haven’t found a sustainable way to pay for the state’s share.
The fight is wrapped up in court, though Mr. LePage’s successor is expected to move the issue along.
Idaho’s departing governor, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, gave Medicaid expansion a boost by endorsing the ballot measure in his state last week, despite opposing expansion as too big of a budget risk in the past.