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Health beat: Health coverage expands - unevenly

  • Article by: Jeremy Olson
  • Star Tribune
  • September 20, 2012 - 6:26 PM

The headline finding of new U.S. census survey data released this week was the increase in young adults with health insurance. The attention was understandable.

First, any significant change year to year in the American Community Survey is noteworthy because the wheels of change in the United States tend to turn slowly. Second, the increase suggests that a portion of the 2010 federal health care law is working, with more young adults able to remain on their parents' health plans through age 25.

Even in Minnesota, a state with historically low uninsured rates, the trend was noticeable. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, only 16 percent lacked coverage in 2011, down from nearly 20 percent in the previous three years.

Trouble is, the benefits of extending coverage to adult children helps only if parents have coverage. And in Minnesota's minority communities, that remains a problem.

The uninsured rate among Hispanic adults, for example, was 34 percent in 2011, census data showed. So it's hardly a surprise that the rate for 18- to 24-year-olds in that minority group was a whopping 42 percent.

"There's the issue of whether or not their parents have coverage and also whether or not they are living with their parents or if their parents are even in Minnesota," said Susan Brower, Minnesota's state demographer.

The uninsured rate for black young adults in Minnesota also remained high, at 25 percent, though it was an improvement from the previous three years.

Young adults don't get sick very often, but state officials said it is important to cover them. Among other things, they are prone to recreational and on-the-job injuries that require costly medical care.

The state needs to build on its overall success by identifying why minorities are more likely to lack insurance, said Christina Wessel, deputy director of the Minnesota Budget Project. "The benefits of our economy are not reaching all communities,'' she said. "And that must be reversed if Minnesota wants to remain strong and economically competitive."

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744

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