AUGUSTA (AP) — Hundreds gathered at the Maine Statehouse on Wednesday urging lawmakers to expand Medicaid under the federal health care overhaul as the Democratic-controlled Legislature began its work for the new session.

The presence of the roughly 350 people calling for Medicaid expansion foreshadows what’s certain to be another fiery debate in the Legislature on the bill this session, during which lawmakers will also try to fill a $75 million gap in the state budget and debate measures aimed at cracking down on welfare abuse.

Among those there Wednesday included some who lost Medicaid coverage, called MaineCare in the state, last month who hoped their personal stories will convince GOP lawmakers to get on board.

But Republicans said they remain concerned about the cost and won’t support the same expansion bill passed last year and vetoed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage, signaling the difficulty Democrats will have in seeing it through to passage this time around.

“This will be a monumental battle this session, as it was last session,” said Republican House Leader Ken Fredette of Newport, of the bill that would add roughly 70,000 residents to the state’s program.

Maria Pineo of Yarmouth said she’s among the thousands of Mainers who lost their coverage last month due to changes in the state’s Medicaid program. Some parents and adults without children are no longer covered under MaineCare due to cuts made by LePage’s administration to address financial challenges in the program.

Pineo said she has a heart condition, but with a seasonal job, she can’t afford to get private coverage.

“Without MaineCare, I can’t afford the preventative care I need to keep me healthy and working,” she said at the rally organized by the liberal-leaning Maine People’s Alliance.

Lawmakers began examining a long list of other issues on Wednesday, like whether the state should allow veteran’s organizations like the American Legion to have slot machines in their facilities. But Medicaid expansion remains among the most high-profile issues on the plate this short session.

Republicans have consistently argued that the state can’t expand coverage while elderly and disabled people remain on waiting lists for services.

Deborah Sanderson, a Republican from Chelsea and co-chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, said she would be willing to consider further expanding coverage to non-disabled adults, if those people on the waiting list are fully covered.

But LePage said he won’t compromise with Democrats on the expansion in order to pass welfare reform bills that he’s backing this session. LePage said he’s introducing a measure that would require some people on welfare to show they’ve applied to at least three jobs to receive benefits and wants to bar Electronic Benefit Transfer Cards from being used to buy things like alcohol and lottery tickets.

Democrats haven’t been able to show him how the state can afford the expansion without passing debt along to the state’s hospitals, like it did when Medicaid was expanded about 10 years ago, the governor said Wednesday.

“We’ve already expanded and now they’re asking for more? If they show me where the money comes from, I’ll be willing to talk,” he said.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.