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Medicaid expansion to 70,000 more Mainers is dead

AUGUSTA (WGME) -- A plan to expand MaineCare to 70,000 more low-income Mainers is now officially dead. At the State House on Friday, most of the Maine Senate voted in favor of Medicaid expansion. But the vote fell just short of the two-thirds majority needed to override the Governor LePage's veto.

Inside the Senate chamber, there were dozens of people in support of Medicaid expansion, including some who would have benefited from it. Amy Halsted, with the Maine People's Alliance, says "The message that our folks are bringing into the Senate chamber today is that this is about people's lives. Not only does it save money, it will save lives."

Before the Senate vote, democrats urged republican lawmakers to reconsider accepting these federal dollars to extend healthcare to 70,000 more Mainers. Sen. Chris Johnson, (D) Lincoln county, says "This is a case of an obstacle that 70,000 people in the state of Maine cannot overcome on their own. These are hard-working people. These are good Maine people."

Democrats senators say this compromise bill would have cost the state next to nothing.  They say the federal government would have 100% paid for Medicaid expansion over the next three years.  But republican senators point to the Alexander report, which says that this would have cost the state millions of dollars in administrative and other costs."

Sen. Garrett Mason, (R) Androscoggin county, says "If we do this, there will be 33 percent of Maine people on government benefits. That is unsustainable." He went on to say "I do not have money to pay for other people's health insurance.  Neither do my parents.  Neither do my grandparents.  We have a hard enough time taking care of ourselves."

But Asst. Democratic Leader, Sen. Anne Haskell, says "We pay for it everyday in the type of care that's provided at the most expensive locations and in the most expensive way, as opposed to up front and before things get too bad." She says if lawmakers don't take advantage of these federal dollars, emergency rooms will be the only option for those 70,000 people.

In the end, there were just enough votes to uphold Governor LePage's veto of Medicaid expansion, killing the bill this session. After the vote, several people left the Senate chamber shouting at those who voted against expansion. As they marched out of the Senate chamber, they were shouting "We'll remember in November. We'll remember in November."