The percentage of Maine residents without health insurance has fallen from 8% to 5.7% in three years, according to a new report from the US Census.
The state now has the 14th lowest uninsured rate in the nation, though its rate remains the highest in New England, according to the census.
The decline is primarily the result of Medicaid eligibility expansion in 2019, and represents the largest decline among the 2019 to 21 states, the latest statistics for the year were available. About 99,000 Maine residents now have Medicaid insurance. Medicaid, also known here as MaineCare, is insurance for low-income people funded by a mix of federal and state dollars.
Massachusetts, which enacted insurance coverage reforms in the 2000s that preceded the Affordable Care Act, has the lowest uninsured rate in the nation at 2.5%, while the average national is 8.6%. Nationally, the uninsured rate fell from 9.2% in 2019 to 8.6% in 2021.
Maine’s uninsured rate is now about half of what it was a decade ago. The percentage of Maine residents without insurance was 11.2% in 2013, the year before the Affordable Care Act was implemented, according to the census.
New England states have the lowest uninsured rates in the country, with Vermont recording the second-lowest rate at 3.7%, and Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Hampshire, all among 10 states with the lowest percentages of people without insurance. There are still 14 states that have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, including Texas and most Southeast states. Texas has the highest uninsured rate in the nation, with 18% uncovered.
The Medicaid expansion was mandatory under the Affordable Care Act, but a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling ruled that states must decide whether to sign up for the expansion. Former Maine Gov. Paul LePage — now running for a third nonconsecutive term in November against incumbent Gov. Janet Mills — opposed expanding eligibility and vetoed legislative efforts to to expand Medicaid. LePage also refused to expand Medicaid during his final year in office in 2018, even after voters overwhelmingly approved the expansion in a 2017 referendum.
Mills implemented the expansion when she took office in 2019. Maine went from the 26th lowest uninsured rate in the nation in 2019 (8%) to 14th in 2021 (5.7%) .
Nearly 100,000 Maine residents have Medicaid insurance who were ineligible before 2019, although not all were previously uninsured. Some moved from Affordable Care Act coverage to Medicaid after the expansion took effect. ACA enrollment in Maine peaked in 2016 at around 84,000 and is now around 66,000, according to Kaiser Family Foundation and state statistics.
“Having health insurance saves lives. That’s why since my first day in office, I have fought to make health care more accessible and affordable for all Maine residents. This report shows that we are succeeding,” Mills said in a written statement.
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