Minnesota sees big jump in people without health insurance

Daniel Schriemer helps a woman sign up for subsidized health insurance.
Daniel Schriemer, a navigator at St. Paul nonprofit Portico Healthnet, works with a woman signing herself and two daughters up for publicly-subsidized health insurance on May 2, 2017.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

Minnesota saw a big jump last year in the number of people without health insurance, with some 116,000 more uninsured Minnesotans compared to two years earlier, state health officials said Tuesday.

The uninsured rate rose from 4.3 percent in 2015 to 6.3 percent, leaving about 349,000 Minnesotans without coverage. The rate remains significantly better than the 9.1 percent rate from 2011, before major parts of the Affordable Care Act took effect. Still, the Health Department said the percentage jump the past two years was worrisome.

"It is particularly concerning that we are seeing a decrease in health insurance coverage of this magnitude during a time of economic growth and low unemployment," state health economist Stefan Gildemeister said in a statement as the agency released the results of its 2017 health access survey.

"Historically, this is an anomaly and it raises the question of whether the tools in place to address such shocks to insurance coverage — subsidized public health insurance — are sufficient for the conditions of today," he said.

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The department survey found losing a job that offered coverage, losing eligibility for coverage or finding the cost of coverage too high among the top reasons people cited for losing coverage. Fifty-three percent of people who no longer had coverage in 2017 "said either they could no longer afford to maintain it or they couldn't afford to purchase new coverage

The department tied the uninsured rate increase in 2017 with two private market trends: a 3 percentage point decline in Minnesotans with coverage offered by employers, to 53 percent, and shrinking enrollment in the individual market of about 2 percentage points from 6.2 percent in 2015 to 4.4 percent in 2017.

Public coverage, including Medicare, Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare, rose by 3 percentage points to 36.5 percent, but not enough to offset declining private coverage. Aging of the population, which makes more people eligible for Medicare, accounted for 40 percent of the increase in the public health insurance rolls, the agency said.

Children, American Indians and people with incomes at or below poverty all maintained their coverage gains from 2015. Still, officials saw the overall picture as gloomy.

Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm called 2017 "a disappointing year in which higher costs, undercutting of the Affordable Care Act at the federal level and declining coverage by employers moved us away from our public health goal of achieving universal access to health care."