Census finds Minnesota made big gains in health insurance coverage

The share of Minnesotans without health insurance fell sharply for the second straight year in 2015, reaching 4.5 percent, the U.S. Census Bureau said Tuesday.

That gave Minnesota the fifth-lowest uninsured rate in the country, after Massachusetts, the District of Columbia, Vermont and Hawaii.

An estimated 244,000 Minnesotans lacked health insurance in 2015, according to census estimates. That’s down almost half from 2013, when 440,000 were uninsured.

The drop came as coverage requirements of the Affordable Care Act kicked in, subjecting individuals to tax penalties if they didn’t purchase health insurance. Minnesota also expanded eligibility for Medical Assistance, or Medicaid, increasing the program’s enrollment by more than 200,000 people since 2013.

Minnesota’s uninsured rate was 8.2 percent in 2013 and fell to 5.9 percent in 2014. Before 2013, Minnesota’s uninsured rate had been inching upward.

“It is fairly easy to lose ground if you are not maintaining the programs and funding them,” said Lynn Blewett, a health policy researcher at the University of Minnesota. “Now [the state] is thinking about targeting the remaining uninsured.”

Blewett said Minnesota’s remaining uninsured include people ages 19 to 24, lower-income residents who don’t pay taxes and aren’t subject to the federal tax penalty, and undocumented immigrants. Also, legal immigrants must wait five years after attaining citizenship before becoming eligible for Medical Assistance.