Maine lawmakers are backing a bill to significantly expand the scope of the state-run children’s health insurance program, increasing the income eligibility cap to 300 percent of the poverty level, waiving premiums and waiting periods, and adding 19- and 20-year-olds.

The bill, L.D. 372, would increase the income eligibility cap for a family of four from $59,000 a year to $83,250 a year, adding an estimated 7,800 Maine children to the program. It would waive monthly premiums and the three-month wait following the loss of an employer health plan.

According to the bill’s sponsor, this overhaul would help solve two of Maine’s most urgent problems: the workforce shortage that is harming Maine’s economy and the lack of affordable health insurance for Maine’s most vulnerable residents, its children.

“We’re competing with the rest of New England for young families to grow our workforce,” said Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth. “But our neighboring states have a huge advantage because their children have full access to affordable health care, while we could be doing more.”

For comparison, Massachusetts extends public health insurance coverage to children in families who earn up to 305 percent of the federal poverty level; Vermont covers up to 317 percent; and New Hampshire covers up to 323 percent. Maine’s current cap of just over 200 percent of the poverty level is the lowest.

Carney said this low income cap for public insurance is a big reason that Maine has the highest rate of uninsured children in the Northeast – 5.6 percent compared to Massachusetts’s 1.5 percent, New Hampshire’s 3.7 percent and Vermont’s 2.1 percent.


One must look west to Indiana and south to North Carolina to find similarly high rates, Carney said.

In rural Maine, small businesses often are unable to offer their employees health plans, much less plans that cover families. Children in Lincoln and Washington counties are twice as likely to lack health insurance as children in York and Cumberland counties, Carney said.

Sen. Ned Claxton, D-Auburn, said this bill is a top legislative priority. It will give working-class families access to high-quality care that is often better suited for children than most private plans. For example, the state plan includes dental coverage, where many private plans don’t.

“I’m a retired family doctor, so I’m all about prevention,” Claxton said. “This would give 7,800 children the kind of healthcare their family couldn’t otherwise afford. That’s beautiful. You almost can’t put a price on how valuable that is: to that child, that family, to our state.”

The bill was approved under the gavel in both chambers – no debate, no vote – but it’s $3.3 million price tag and eligibility expansion prompted Rep. Michael Lemelin, R-Chelsea, to speak out, arguing it would make most Maine children eligible for public healthcare coverage.

“Three hundred percent above the federal poverty level is too extreme for me and too extreme for Maine,” Lemelin said. “A family of three can make $65,000 a year and be on welfare. I think that’s excessive. That’s 70 percent of the people in Maine.”


When pressed on this front, Carney noted that the expansion will allow Maine to take advantage of a favorable federal match – about three dollars for every one dollar it spends on the Children’s Health Insurance Plan.

Lemelin was the only member to vote against the bill when the Health and Human Services Committee took it up in March. The bill is a holdover from the last legislative session, which ended early due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Its public hearing was held in February 2021.

At the hearing, groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics, Maine Children’s Alliance, United Way of Greater Portland and the Maine Center for Economic Policy came out in support. The state Department of Health and Human Services took no position but worried about how to fund it.

Bath pediatrician Deborah Patten told the committee about her first-hand observations of the tragic consequences that befall Maine’s uninsured children. Those consequences go beyond the child, she said, pushing the suffering family and overburdened social safety net to the breaking point.

“Toddlers have arrived moribund, children with psychological and behavior issues have worsened irreparably, and autistic patients have lost critically valuable treatment time,” Patten said. “Children lose developmental potential. Families lose resilience and economic security.”

The bill will have to return to both the House and the Senate for enactment votes before heading to the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, which must decide which bills to fund through the state budget.

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