The number of uninsured children in Minnesota dropped by 16,000 between 2010 and 2012, according to a new national analysis — exactly the number that officials predicted when Gov. Mark Dayton and legislators expanded access to the state’s MinnesotaCare program last July.

Although the change in MinnesotaCare access can’t be entirely credited for the two years of progress, officials with the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota believe it contributed to the gains.

“While we can’t show the direct correlation, we know that expanding and streamlining access to public health care programs decreases the number of uninsured children and ensures more children get the care they need,” said Elaine Cunningham, outreach director for the children’s advocacy group.

The reduction helps Minnesota in an area where, surprisingly, it lags behind many other states. While Minnesota is known for its low uninsured rate in adults — it’s typically among the five lowest in the nation — it still ranks 22nd in the country for the rate of uninsured children.

Even with the recent gains, Minnesota still has more than 68,000 children without medical insurance.

Studies have shown that uninsured children are less likely to receive primary and preventive medical care and that they are more likely to suffer complications from neglected health and chronic diseases.

Officials with Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families, which conducted the study, said the shifts in Minnesota and other states represent progress that will accelerate as more families take advantage of subsidies and other coverage options next year under the Affordable Care Act. Families with incomes of up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level will at least receive subsidies they can use to buy health insurance on the state’s MNsure exchange. Many will qualify for free coverage under Medicaid, known in Minnesota as Medical Assistance. □