Maine Medicaid Expansion Will Benefit Parents and Children

By Shiva Sethi

Last month, the majority of Maine voters chose to expand Medicaid coverage to include more low-income adults. Expansion will raise the program’s income eligibility threshold to 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, giving more than half of Maine’s uninsured population—including thousands of parents—access to affordable health insurance.

Access to health insurance through Medicaid is associated with better outcomes for parents and children, in part because parents’ health is a critical component of their children’s wellbeing. Parents need to be healthy to foster their children’s development and to provide for their families. Mental and physical health problems can be diagnosed and treated with appropriate medical care. When parents’ illnesses are left untreated, parent-child relationships suffer. Parents who are insured are more likely to receive critical preventive services and care when they are sick—and they are more likely to seek out these services for their children. This translates to more checkups, developmental screenings, and healthier young children.

Medicaid expansion offers particularly important benefits for new mothers and their babies. Under current state law, low-income women in Maine lose Medicaid coverage two months after giving birth. This prevents ongoing care for mothers’ health and mental health issues that may follow childbirth. Maternal depression, which can be identified and treated with continuous access to care, is a key example of a prevalent health issue with serious consequences for babies. More than half of poor infants under a year old have a mother experiencing depressive symptoms. Health insurance is the first step to helping these children and their mothers get effective treatment.

Medicaid expansion may also help Maine close the remaining health coverage gap among children. Thanks to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the vast majority of children in Maine—almost 95 percent—are insured. But all children should have health insurance, and research demonstrates that enrolling more parents in Medicaid by expanding eligibility leads to more kids getting covered as well.

Maine’s referendum was a victory for its low-income children and parents, but this victory could be at risk. As Congress is poised to pass a broad package of tax cuts, they are simultaneously opening the door for deep cuts to programs like Medicaid, which could threaten comprehensive coverage for the 264,000 low-income people currently enrolled in Maine.

Advocates and policymakers must continue to fight back against threats to affordable health care and work to expand access to health insurance for more children and families across the country. Maine’s voters made a strong statement in favor of expanding health coverage, and the federal government should listen.