PORTLAND (AP) – The proportion of Mainers without health insurance is higher than other New England states’ but lower than the national average, according to a Census Bureau report released Tuesday.

The data show that 10.8 percent of the state’s population was without health insurance between 2000 and 2002. The rate for the same three-year period was 9.5 percent in New England and 14.7 percent nationally.

State officials say Maine’s numbers will fall once Dirigo Health, the state-sponsored health insurance program, gets under way. That plan, which commences next July, is expected to provide insurance coverage to 189,000 Mainers within five years, said Trish Riley, director of the governor’s Office of Health Policy and Finance.

The governor’s office also intends to expand MaineCare, Maine’s Medicaid program, to offer health insurance to more low-income Mainers.

“Over time, the (uninsured rate) will go down, down, down,” Riley said.

The census report show that the number of people without health insurance nationally rose for the second consecutive year in 2002 as more people lost their jobs and insurance costs rose.

The report shows that Maine’s uninsured rate, like more than half of other states’, did not improve or worsen significantly between 2000 and 2002.

The report indicated that health insurance coverage provided through public programs helped to offset the decline in job-based coverage.

Nationally, 61.3 percent of people were covered by employment-based health insurance in 2002, a decline from 62.6 percent in 2001. During the same time, the proportion of people covered by government health insurance rose from 25.3 percent to 25.7 percent.

“In general, that dynamic exists (in Maine),” said Chris Hastedt, public policy specialist for the Maine Equal Justice Project, an advocacy group for low-income Mainers.

Beth Kilbreth of the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine said there could be another reason for the lack of significant change in Maine’s insured rate: the report’s reliance on three-year averages.

Averages, she said, make it harder to discern trends like increasing rates of uninsured among Mainers. One of the authors of the census report said three-year averages were used to improve the accuracy of statistics for smaller states like Maine, for which analysts used smaller sample sizes.

AP-ES-09-30-03 1137EDT

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