By Jackie Farwell

The number of Maine children without health insurance is climbing after years of declines, even though fewer live in poverty, a new report found.

The increase in Maine stands in stark contrast to the rest of the country, where the average rate of uninsured children has dropped significantly to 5 percent, according to the report released Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

In Maine, 6 percent of children, or about 14,000, lack health insurance. That's a 50 percent increase from 2010, when 4 percent had no coverage, according to the foundation's 2017 Kids Count Data Book.

Only one other state, North Dakota, saw increasing numbers of uninsured children between 2010 and 2015, the report found.

In the rest of the country, the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare was largely responsible for fewer children lacking health insurance in 2015 than before the recession, according to the report. Maine did not expand the health insurance program for low-income residents, and instead tightened eligibility for Medicaid during the past five years under Gov. Paul LePage.

While Medicaid coverage for children wasn't directly affected by those moves, research has consistently shown that when parents lose health coverage, their children often do too, said Steve Butterfield, policy director at the Augusta advocacy group Consumers for Affordable Health Care. Parents dropped from the program may not realize that their children still qualify for Medicaid, as eligibility letters from the state are frequently confusing or erroneous, he said.

Medicaid covers about half of all children in Maine, while the remainder are covered through policies their parents have through work, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

"If we want to improve child well-being in Maine, our officials must look at the evidence and make data-driven decisions for our future," Claire Berkowitz, executive director of the Maine Children's Alliance, said in a news release. "We must create pathways out of poverty so more parents have access to family-supporting jobs, more young children have access to early education and all families have access to affordable health care."

Overall, Maine ranks 13th in the nation for child well-being, according to the report, which compares states on 16 indicators in the areas of health, education, the economy, and family and community. New Hampshire took the top spot, followed by Massachusetts and Vermont. Mississippi was last.

The report found several bright spots in Maine, including that the share of children living in poverty dropped two percentage points to 17 percent in 2015. Only 4 percent of Maine children live in households headed by an adult without a high school diploma, the best such rate in the country. Maine's teen birth rate also fell from 21 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2015.

(c)2017 the Bangor Daily News (Bangor, Maine)