Uninsured Mainers rally at State Capitol

7:21 PM, Jan 8, 2014   |    comments
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AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Hundreds of uninsured Mainers rallied at the state capitol Wednesday morning, hoping to get the attention of lawmakers on the first day of the second session.

They're asking the legislature to reconsider a bill that would expand Medicaid and provide coverage for some 70-thousand low-income people.

That bill was vetoed by Republican Governor Paul Lepage last year. Thousands of low-income adults lost their MaineCare coverage December 31st, after the legislature failed to pass a bill that would have expanded medicaid and allowed them to stay insured.

Gail MacLean, owner of Thread of The Mill Farm, told the crowd losing her health care coverage at age 64 is scary. "I take care of my health," she said. "But I worry if something happens and I get sick, i'll lose my farm and everything i've worked for all my life."

Democratic House Speaker Rep. Mark Eves said he heard the protesters concerns loud and clear. "It's an extremely high priority. Mainers want and need life saving health care and we have an opportunity to accept these federal dollars to provide coverage to 70,000 Mainers and nearly 3,000 veterans.

The bill would expand medicaid coverage under the MaineCare program to include adults between the ages of 21-64 with incomes of up to 133% of the poverty line. The expansion would be funded by federal dollars.

Supporters say taking the federal money would help Maine's economy by creating health care jobs, but opponents including Maine Taxpayers United, say it would be a financial burden and could cause private insurance rates to go up.

"It's not free money!" said Beth O'Connor the group's chairperson. "When people says it's free its actually $7 million to administrate this."

Republicans say if the bill is anything like one introduced last session it's a non-starter. "We would not support a similar approach to Medicaid expansion in this session," said House Minority Leader Rep. Ken Fredette. He says Maine can't afford it. Republicans also expressed concerns about any program that's connected to the Affordable Care Act.

Without enough Republican support to override another expected Lepage veto, many uninsured Mainers will stay uninsured. "I'm tiptoeing around the farm, hoping not to get hurt," said MacLean.

She says she'll try to be very careful, at least until she turns 65 and qualifies for Medicare.


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