This week, the U.S. Census Bureau released 2021 poverty, income, and health data from its Current Population and American Community Surveys (CPS and ACS). Overall, the new national and state Census data reflect the positive impact of COVID-19 relief — including expansions of the child tax credit and health coverage — on Mainers and the rest of the country. In Maine, the new 2021 health insurance data shows the clearest impact yet of Medicaid expansion, with the share of uninsured Mainers falling to a historic low.
According to the 2021 ACS data released today, 5.7 percent of Mainers (just under 78,000 people) lacked health insurance in that year. That’s significantly lower than the 8 percent in 2019, and it’s the lowest share of the population without health insurance as far back as 1988, when regular state-level estimates begin. This reflects the impact of Medicaid expansion which began in 2019 and has provided a crucial safety net for Mainers during a time of unprecedented health problems. 95,000 Mainers were enrolled under the expanded eligibility rules as of July 1, 2022. This expansion combined with federal policies limiting the ability of states to unenroll people from Medicaid during the COVID-19 pandemic helped increase and sustain coverage.
Health insurance coverage also increased due in part to expanded premium tax credits that helped Mainers continue to afford coverage during the pandemic. These expanded credits were recently extended for several more years under the recent Inflation Reduction Act. Had these credits not been extended, 66,000 Mainers would have seen premium increases at the beginning of the year according to MECEP analysis.
MECEP President and CEO Garrett Martin: “This week’s census data reveals the impact that policy decisions made in Washington and Augusta can have on people’s lives. The fact that more people have health insurance coverage than we’ve ever seen before in the data is not an accident. It is a result of deliberate choices made by policymakers to expand access to coverage.”
While the expanded premium tax credits were extended for several more years under the recent Inflation Reduction Act, thousands of Mainers face uncertainty about their MaineCare coverage when the federal public health emergency ends. Under current emergency measures, states generally cannot unenroll individuals from Medicaid, even if their income increases above the eligibility limit. When the public health emergency ends, current MaineCare enrollees may be ineligible for the first time in two years which could impact as many as 13 percent of current enrollees. The emergency is currently scheduled to end in October but could be extended further.
Other measures enacted at the state and federal level have helped shield many Maine families from severe economic hardship and shorten the duration of the economic crisis. Expansions of broad-based federal policies and programs like the Child Tax Credit (CTC), private insurance subsidies and a provision for “continuous enrollment” in Medicaid were particularly influential.
Across the US, the expanded CTC lifted many children and their families out of poverty in 2021. Likewise, Maine lawmakers made similarly influential policy choices when they doubled the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in 2021 and strengthened the incomes of many more workers with low pay. Together, the CTC and EITC make the tax code fairer, increase equity and improve families’ economic security now and in the future.
The impact of refundable tax credits such as the CTC and EITC do not show up in the official poverty rate, which remained statistically unchanged from 2019 and 2020. However, national-level estimates of the Supplemental Poverty Measure show the temporarily-expanded CTC lifted millions of children out of poverty in 2021. Accordingly, it’s likely that at the state level, thousands of children were lifted out of poverty.
Garrett Martin: “As with health insurance coverage, the economic security of tens of thousands of Maine families got a significant boost thanks to recent policies enacted at the state and federal level. Unfortunately, the expiration of federal programs like the monthly Child Tax Credit means some families may face greater challenges in the future and reinforces the continued need for state-level action on these issues.”