Statewide survey finds that prior to rollout of ACA health plans, insured and uninsured Mainers struggled to pay health care costs

March 26, 2014

Results of a  new annual statewide survey show that a significant proportion of Maine people who are uninsured as well as many with health insurance had difficulty paying for health care services in December 2013, prior to the start of coverage through the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as “Obamacare”).

Those with the lowest incomes reported the hardest time affording health services, yet more than one-quarter of Mainers with health insurance (25.3%) experienced problems paying medical bills as well. Paying medical bills was a challenge for those in the lowest income group (32%), but it was also a significant problem for Mainers with middle incomes (35.4%).

“The release of the December 2013 statewide survey results provide a pre-Marketplace benchmark that will help track how Maine people are affected by the ACA and state policy decisions,” said Dr. Wendy Wolf, President and CEO of the Maine Health Access Foundation (MeHAF).  

One of the central goals of Obamacare is to expand the availability of higher quality, comprehensive coverage with no-cost preventive care and a cap on out-of-pocket costs.  Individuals and families purchasing coverage through the ACA Health Insurance Marketplace can also qualify for financial assistance that can make coverage more affordable.  Federal enrollment data through February, 2014 reported that over 25,000 Mainers had selected health plans through the Marketplace, with 90% qualifying for financial assistance. 

“We hope that financial assistance combined with better, more robust health plans will help alleviate the financial challenges that middle and lower income Mainers face in accessing and paying for needed health care services,” noted Dr. Wolf.  “Repeating the statewide survey each December will provide the data we need to answer these key questions.”

The survey also showed that Maine people who are uninsured continue to face significant cost barriers to accessing health care services.  Nearly 41% reported barriers to getting dental care and over one-third reported foregoing needed medical care because they couldn’t afford it. 

“It’s troubling to note that uninsured Maine adults face significant problems paying medical bills and are unable to afford needed medical and dental care,” noted MeHAF Program Officer Charles Dwyer, who helped develop the annual survey process.  “The foundation is concerned that Mainers losing public health insurance through the Medicaid program (also called MaineCare) will increase the percentage of low-income people who experience problems accessing health care services and paying for medical bills.  This annual survey will help us track the impact that these changes in the Medicaid program will have on lower income families, particularly those who cannot qualify for subsidized plans through the Marketplace.”

To read or download a copy of the Health Reform Monitoring Survey – Maine, go here.

The national Health Reform Monitoring Survey (HRMS) was developed by the Urban Institute, conducted by GfK and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Urban Institute.  MeHAF worked with national survey experts from GfK to develop and field the annual survey of Maine residents (HRMS-Maine) to track the impact of the ACA and state changes in Medicaid on health insurance coverage, access and use of health care, health care affordability, and self-reported health status. The HRMS-Maine gathers data on adults ages 18-64, and it uses the same questions that are used in a national HRMS. The foundation funded the report on key factors about Maine residents, obtained from an expanded, representative sample of 992 Maine residents (HRMS-Maine) conducted in December, 2013.  MeHAF plans to field the survey annually.