Number of Minnesotans uninsured jumps by 100,000

  • Article by: CHEN MAY YEE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 5, 2010 - 11:24 PM

Minnesotans lost their health insurance in record numbers - more than 100,000 in two years - as unemployment surged.

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Dr. Jill Miedema examined Adam Barnes, 37, of Minneapolis on Friday afternoon at the Fremont Clinic. He made an appointment because he has high blood pressure and hasn’t been taking medicine for it because he doesn’t have health insurance.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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More than 100,000 Minnesotans lost their health insurance between 2007 and 2009 as unemployment and the recession made deep inroads into medical coverage, the state Department of Health reported Friday.

By last year, nearly 1 in 10 Minnesotans lacked health insurance, the highest share since the state began keeping records, in 1990.

"The percentage of the population with coverage through an employer really declined," said Stefan Gildemeister, assistant director of the Health Economics Program at the Minnesota Department of Health, which issued the report.

The number of uninsured Minnesotans rose from 374,000 to 480,000 between 2007 and 2009 and the uninsured rate rose from 7.2 percent to 9.1 percent.

While 85,000 of the uninsured were children aged 17 or younger, nearly all of the increase occurred among adults.

"The economic recession has had a clear impact on health insurance access and affordability," said Health Commissioner Dr. Sanne Magnan. "While it is not surprising that we found a higher rate of uninsurance in 2009, these results highlight the need to sustain Minnesota's health reform efforts that are designed to contain rising health care costs."

The percentage of Minnesotans covered through an employer fell to 57.2 percent from 62.5 percent in 2007.

Public programs picked up some but not all of those who lost coverage. Programs such as Medicare and Medicaid covered 28.7 percent of Minnesotans in 2009, up from 25.2 percent in 2007.

The Minnesota study was based on a phone survey of more than 12,000 households and was conducted from August through November. Researchers asked respondents if they were uninsured at the time of the call. Comparable data comparing all states won't be available until next summer.

The survey found that some groups were hit harder than others. More men than women lost their employer-sponsored insurance as sectors that traditionally hire men -- manufacturing and construction, for example -- were hit hard by the recession. Some 12 percent of male Minnesotans were uninsured last year, compared to 6 percent of females.

Young adults were also far more likely to be uninsured, as were minorities.

People uninsured longer

Equally worrying was the finding that more people were going without insurance for long periods. Researchers asked respondents if they had been continuously uninsured for the past 12 months; 6.2 percent said yes, up from 4.6 percent when that question was asked in 2007.

Health Department officials noted that more than two thirds of the uninsured Minnesotans are potentially eligible for public insurance coverage. However, some don't know about the programs or think they are ineligible. Others are challenged by the paperwork or can't afford the premiums and copays for programs such as MinnesotaCare. Some may not enroll because of the perceived stigma.

Friday's numbers came as little surprise to those who work at community clinics, which treat many uninsured patients.

Many more first-timers

Employees at Fremont Avenue Clinic in north Minneapolis said they have seen a steady increase in patients who recently lost their jobs and their insurance. The federally funded community clinic charges patients on a sliding scale based on income.

Case manager Lada Gonzalez has seen teachers, retail managers, bus drivers, construction workers and social workers walk in the door, many for the first time.

"It's heartbreaking to see people in this position," said Gonzalez. "People have so much pride and they feel like they have failed."

Kathleen Call, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, who co-wrote Friday's report, noted that while Minnesota still ranks among the top five states nationally, it has lost ground to other states, such as Massachusetts, that have expanded coverage more aggressively.

Chen May Yee 612-673-7434

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