While Mainers who have lost their health care coverage or are not eligible for MaineCare without expansion told their stories, the political challenge of winning expansion this session was as clear as the broadcast from Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s television, beaming down his welfare-reform message on the assembled activists: “Maine’s Medicaid program is crowding out other spending.”

Lawmakers twice last year passed bills to accept federal funding for Medicaid expansion that supporters say would result in 70,000 additional Mainers receiving coverage through the taxpayer-funded program. But Democrats were unable to garner the two-thirds support in the Maine House and Senate to override vetoes by LePage.

This year, Democrats have again vowed to make expansion a priority.

On Wednesday, the Maine People’s Alliance, a leading liberal advocacy group, bussed in hundreds of activists, who met with lawmakers to lobby for their support. Some lawmakers said it was the largest such rally the State House has seen in years.

One of those speakers was Gail MacLean, who boards horses at her stable in Gray. MacLean said she has been on Medicaid for three years, but lost her coverage on Dec. 31 as a result of the state not expanding the program, known as MaineCare in the state.

“Now I’m tip-toeing around the farm, hoping I don’t hurt myself,” she said. “My fear is that if something happens, I’ll lose what I’ve worked so hard for.”

Another man, Tom Bennie, a farmer and handyman from Whitefield, said MaineCare paid for his full hip replacement in 2010, and helped his wife recover from a heart attack shortly thereafter.

“If it weren’t for MaineCare, I wouldn’t be able to stand here today,” he said. “My health is all I have. That’s the most important thing. MaineCare gave me a sense of security.”

Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, I-Friendship, is co-sponsor of this session’s Medicaid expansion bill, which legislative Republicans and LePage have vowed to defeat a second time. He called on the governor to follow the example of other GOP executives, such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who in their states accepted Medicaid expansion as allowed by President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

He called the showing by MPA “impressive.”

“I think it’s a real statement to the moderate Republicans to get on board,” he said. “If Gov. LePage vetoes this bill again, I expect them to support us in overriding.”

One of those moderate Republicans, Sen. Patrick Flood of Winthrop, who was one of only three GOP senators to vote with Democrats for Medicaid expansion last year. On Wednesday, after speaking with a couple activists, he pledged the Legislature’s “due diligence” on the issue, but cautioned that he never makes any promises.

While Medicaid expansion is an uphill fight for Democrats, the key battle will take place in the House of Representatives. House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, has vowed opposition to the bill. On Wednesday, Assistant House Minority Leader Alex Willette, R-Mapleton, said he was unimpressed by the showing from MPA.

“I’ve had a few conversations out there and had a chance to talk to some people,” he said. “It seems some of them didn’t know what they were asking me. I tried to talk to them about Medicaid expansion and some of them didn’t know they were here to talk about expansion. The MPA did a great job getting people here, but I don’t think they educated them enough.”

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