Maine now ranks 14th among U.S. states for the portion of its population without health insurance.
In this May 9, 2017, file photo, a nursing student listens to a man's lungs with a nurse practitioner at the Greater Portland Health Clinic. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Maine has seen the largest drop of any state in the number of people without health insurance.

That’s the finding of a new U.S. Census Bureau report looking at changes in health insurance rates from 2019 to 2021. It follows a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last month that showed a roughly 5 percent decline in the number of low-income Mainers who were uninsured in the year after Medicaid expansion.

Last year, there were about 77,639 Mainers without health insurance, representing about 5.7 percent of the state’s population. That’s down from 8 percent two years earlier.

It’s a 2.3 percentage point decline, the largest fall of any U.S. state during that two-year period. Only Idaho, at 2 percentage points, saw a decline rivaling Maine’s.

Maine now ranks 14th among all 50 states for the percentage of uninsured residents, down from 26th two years earlier.

“Over the last two years, despite the challenges of the pandemic, Maine outperformed every other state in improving health coverage. Now more Maine people can see a doctor, afford medications, and receive preventive care, keeping families and our economy both healthy,” Democratic Gov. Janet Mills said Monday.

Maine saw gains in both private and public health insurance, with a 1.1 point rise in the percentage of Mainers with private insurance and a 1.2 point rise for those with publicly funded health insurance.

That fall in Maine’s uninsured rate coincides with Medicaid expansion here, which Mills ordered on her first day in office in January 2019, about 14 months after Maine voters approved expansion at the ballot box. Her predecessor, Republican Paul LePage, refused to implement the voter-approved expansion and vetoed numerous previous attempts passed by the Legislature. The two are set to face off this November in the race for the Blaine House.

Following expansion, Maine saw uncompensated care at the state’s hospitals fall by $84.1 million from 2018 to 2020, according to the governor’s office, which cited data from the Maine Health Data Organization.

“Maine hospitals have long been supportive of expanding health coverage and this great news proves it is the right policy,” Steve Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Association, said Monday. “With the federal government paying for the vast majority of the expansion of Medicaid, this is a big win for Maine people, hospitals and other providers of care, and the Maine economy.”

Despite the gains made to increase access to health insurance, Maine still outranks all other New England states for the rate of insured people. Massachusetts has an uninsured rate of 2.5 percent, Vermont 3.7 percent, Rhode Island 4.3 percent, New Hampshire 5.1 percent and Connecticut 5.2 percent, according to Census Bureau estimates.

Still, Maine far outpaces by a significant margin most states that haven’t expanded Medicaid, including Texas, where 18 percent of its residents don’t have health insurance.