Maine spends more on health care per person than most other states, according to a new federal study that shows wide variation across the country.
Maine spent $9,531 on health care per capita in 2014, the 11th-highest amount in the nation. That figure reflects a wide range of health costs, funded by both public and private insurance programs, from doctor visits and hospitalizations to insurance co-pays and prescription drugs.
The national average was $8,045.
The study, conducted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Office of the Actuary, was published June 14 by the journal Health Affairs. It examined health spending from 2010 to 2014, the most recent year for which data is available.
Per capital health spending ranged from a low of $5,982 in Utah to a high of $11,064 in Alaska — “a nearly twofold difference,” the authors wrote. In general, states where residents earn more, where greater percentages of the population are enrolled in Medicare or Medicaid, and those with lots of hospital beds, doctors, and other health services spent more per capita. On the other hand, states with high uninsured rates spent less, presumably because people without insurance avoid seeking out health care until they absolutely need it.
The data are further evidence of the high price tag for health care in Maine, long driven by its elderly population, comparatively high rates of chronic disease, and heavy reliance on government health insurance.
It also offers a new glimpse at how Obamacare and the economic recession affected health spending. On the whole, Obamacare may have boosted per capita health spending, because upon going into full effect in 2014, the law expanded health insurance to 9 million Americans. Those people could then use that coverage to visit their doctor, undergo surgeries, buy medication, etc.
But the study also made this discovery: Spending grew at similar rates in states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare and those that didn’t (4.4 percent and 4.5 percent on average between 2013 and 2014, respectively).
Per capita health spending grew by 4.4 percent in Maine, which opted against Medicaid expansion.
Researchers said this happened for two different reasons. In expansion states, more insured people meant more people using health care goods and services. In states that didn’t expand Medicaid, spending per person grew faster.
A closer look at the data, however, shows that Maine bucked that trend. Here, spending on Medicaid actually fell by about a percent, to $7,504 per enrollee from 2013 to 2014. The number of people enrolled in the program barely grew, by only half a percent in Maine, while the average in the rest of the country was 5.2 percent between 2010 and 2014.
Those statistics bear out Gov. Paul LePage’s cuts to Medicaid, known as MaineCare, during the years when many other states expanded the program or left it alone.