AUGUSTA — Democratic leaders in the Maine House and Senate joined Mainers at a rally Tuesday in support of accepting federal dollars to expand health care to 70,000 Mainers, including nearly 3,000 veterans.

 During the rally, leaders thanked hundreds of supporters who came to the State House on the first day of the short second session of the state legislature.

 “We are so grateful to the people who came today to talk to lawmakers about the importance of this life-saving health care,” said Speaker of the House Mark Eves of North Berwick, who is sponsoring a new measure to accept federal Medicaid dollars under the Affordable Care Act. “What we heard today is what we hear from our neighbors at home: people want and need life-saving health care. They don’t understand why politics and ideology are holding up common sense care.”

 Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government has pledged to pay 100 percent of the costs of health care for tens of thousands of Mainers for three years.  

 The Governor vetoed a bipartisan compromise measure earlier this year that would have accepted the funds for three years with a sunset clause, opt-out provision and maximum co-pays. As result, nearly 25,000 low-income Mainers, including 15,000 parents, will lose coverage in January and 55,000 other low-income Mainers will not be eligible for health care coverage.

 According to a Harvard Study, Maine could prevent around 395 deaths per year by accepting federal funds.  

 “Today in the halls of the State House, we heard why expanding health care to tens of thousands of Mainers is a top priority. The stakes are high—people’s lives and well-being are on the line,” said Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland. “Expanding healthcare is the right thing to do morally and it’s the right economic decision. Making sure folks have access to healthcare without the fear of going bankrupt is something we all value and it’s something we will continue fighting for.”

 Analyses by the non-partisan Kaiser Foundation and the conservative Heritage Foundation confirm that Maine could save $690 million over the next decade from Medicaid expansion. Maine is one of 10 states that will see Medicaid expenditures go down over 10 years if it accepts these funds.

 States that choose not to expand Medicaid under federal health care reform will leave millions of their residents without health insurance and increase spending on the cost of treating uninsured residents, according to a RAND Corporation study.

 A public hearing will be held on Eves’ bill and another measure to expand Medicaid sponsored by Senator Troy Jackson of Allagash on Jan. 15.

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