The BDN Editorial Board operates independently of the newsroom and does not set policy or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Maine had the largest drop in the percentage of people without health insurance in the country over the past two years. Having more people insured and able to access health care is good for their health and good for the state’s economy.
The drop in uninsured Mainers is due in part to the expansion of Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income Americans, which is called MaineCare here.
Voters overwhelmingly approved Medicaid expansion in 2017. That came after Gov. Paul LePage repeatedly vetoed legislation to expand Medicaid eligibility, which was passed by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers. Even after voters approved the referendum to extend the government insurance program to more Mainers, LePage still refused to implement it.
Governor Janet Mills did this on her first day in office in January 2019. Since then, nearly 100,000 people have gained access to health insurance. Most of the people helped by the Medicaid expansion were working, but previously did not have access to an affordable insurance plan.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Maine’s uninsured rate dropped from 8 percent in 2019 to 5.7 percent in 2021. That was the largest percentage drop among all states in the nation.
Maine now ranks 14th among the 50 states for the percentage of uninsured residents, down from 26th two years earlier.
Maine saw gains in both public and private health insurance, with a 1.1 point increase in the percentage of Mainers with private insurance.
There are many benefits to having more people covered by health insurance. For one thing, those newly covered can now afford to go to a medical provider. This means they can get preventative care and take care of chronic conditions before they get worse. This includes mental health care and substance use disorder care. This improves their lives and lowers costs for others.
Beyond the individual benefits, having more people covered by insurance helps hospitals reduce uncompensated care and maintain their staff. Maine hospitals saw their uncompensated care decrease by $84 million between 2018 and 2020, according to the governor’s office.
“This is a huge win for the people of Maine, hospitals and other care providers, and Maine’s economy,” Steve Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Association, said of the data from the ‘Census Bureau and Medicaid expansion, which is primarily federally funded. government
Medicaid expansion has also reduced costs for those who were already insured and led to economic and job growth.
“Over the past two years, despite the challenges of the pandemic, Maine outperformed all other states in improving health care coverage,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a press release earlier this week. “Now more Maine people can see a doctor, pay for drugs and get preventive care, keeping families and our economy healthy.”
The governor also pointed to other steps the state has taken to increase the affordability of health insurance and health care, including codifying protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions into state law and lowering costs of health insurance for small businesses.
There is still work to be done. Maine lags behind other New England states in the rate of people being insured; more than 77,000 people in Maine still do not have health insurance.
Still, Census Bureau data show that the Medicaid expansion, which was supported by a majority of Maine people and Maine lawmakers, has made a significant difference in the state.