MN Uninsured Rate Stagnant Despite Economic Recovery

A new report suggests that the economic upturn either hasn't produced jobs that would offer employer-based insurance or coverage gains associated with new jobs have been offset by coverage losses at other companies.

The economic recession officially ended nearly two years ago, but the percentage of Minnesotans covered by employer-sponsored health plans hasn't increased proportionately as the economy has recovered.

Minnesota's uninsured rate in 2011 was 9.1 percent-the same as it was in 2009, according to a report released Tuesday by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health.

Part of the reason for that: There hasn't been a boost in employer-sponsored health insurance coverage as the economy has rebounded. At least through 2011, it seems the economic upturn either hasn't produced jobs that would offer employer-based insurance, or coverage gains associated with new jobs have been offset by coverage losses at other companies, the report said. Flat or slowly rising incomes for employees coupled with rising health care costs likely contributed to the stagnant figures.

Over the past decade, Minnesota's uninsured rate has trended upward from 6.1 percent in 2001. In 2007, the uninsured rate was 7.2 percent, and it jumped to 9 percent during the following two years, largely due to the impact of the economic downturn, according to the study.

In terms of actual numbers, that translates to an estimated 490,000 Minnesotans uninsured in 2011, up from 480,000 in 2009 and 374,000 in 2007. Researchers believe that roughly 70,000 children in Minnesota were without health coverage last year.

“This report indicates that we have not recovered from the losses in health insurance coverage that we sustained subsequent to the Great Recession,” Minnesota Commissioner of Health Ed Ehlinger said in a statement. “It is also clear that the cost of insurance is a barrier to coverage. We absolutely must redouble our efforts focused on disease prevention, public health, and payment reform so that health coverage becomes more affordable for Minnesotans.”

Despite the stagnant uninsured rates over the past couple of years, the report did highlight one bright spot: “[Y]oung adults ages 18 to 25 saw a decline in their uninsured rate in 2011,” Stefan Gildemeister, director of the Health Economics Program at MDH, said in a statement. “For the first time in years, young adults saw an increase in coverage through an employer.” The study indicates that's likely due to provisions in the federal Affordable Care Act that allow young adults to remain on their parents' health insurance plans through age 26.

The report also found that nearly three-fourths of the uninsured have access to some type of health insurance coverage but don't take advantage of it. Roughly 60 percent of the uninsured were eligible for public coverage, and approximately 17 percent were eligible for coverage through their employer. The uninsured were more likely than the population as a whole to be self-employed, work for small firms with fewer than 10 employees, and have part-time, multiple, or temporary or seasonal jobs.

The report was based on a telephone survey of more than 11,000 Minnesota households; it was conducted in both English and Spanish, and cell phones were included.