Study: More Minnesotans are without health insurance

A doctor examines a young patient.
File Photo: Getty Images/Joe Raedle

A new survey shows the recession is likely forcing more Minnesotans off of health insurance.

The percentage of uninsured Minnesotans crept up in the last two years, reaching 9 percent, according to the results of a survey released Friday by the Minnesota Department of Health and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

The percentage of uninsured Minnesotans went from 7.2 percent in 2007 to 9.1 percent in 2009, an increase of 106,000 people. The number of state residents without health insurace totaled about 480,000 in 2009.

In both the 2007 and 2009 surveys, two-thirds of the uninsured people had been without coverage for a year or longer.

The 9 percent rate is the highest the study has recorded since researchers began conducting regular surveys in 2001, said Stefan Gildemeister, assistant director for health economics at the Minnesota Department of Health, who directed the study. The survey also found that fewer people were getting health coverage through work.

"The decline in group coverage is the primary reason for the increase in the uninsurance rate," Gildemeister said. "The recession and the economic downturn ... has really affected how and when people can access employer coverage."

Minnesota's uninsurance rate is still lower than the national average, which stood at 15.3 percent in 2007 and 2008 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. During that same period, Minnesota's rate was 8.5 percent, one of the three lowest rates in the country.

But Gildemeister said the uptick in the number of uninsured Minnesotans is troubling because it means fewer people have access to health care services, and more people's assets are unprotected when they get sick.

"It is definitely a concern, especially to people who are without it," Gildemeister said.

Researchers noticed a few other troubling trends within the survey data. For example, more middle-income Minnesotans and people with college-level education were uninsured in the latest survey. In addition, the health insurance disparities between whites and people of color persisted.

National health insurance numbers and state-specific data for 2009 aren't expected to be available until later this year, but Gildemeister predicted uninsurance rates would rise elsewhere.

"The factors that are most likely driving the change in insurance coverage in Minnesota that are related to the labor market and related to the economy, they're not unique to the state," he said.

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