The number of young adults with health insurance rose sharply in Minnesota in 2011, but that is the one glimmer in an otherwise disappointing new review of the state's coverage levels.

Despite an improving economy, the rate of uninsured Minnesotans remained around 9 percent in 2009 and 2011 -- up from 7 percent earlier in the decade, according to a biennial state Health Department survey. As unemployed Minnesotans found work, they accepted jobs without health coverage or found the plans too pricey, researchers concluded.

"Not much has changed, even though we are supposedly in a period of economic recovery," said Kathleen Call, a public health professor at the University of Minnesota. She co-authored the report, which was released Tuesday.

New state and federal health laws, however, allow parents to retain health benefits for their children, regardless of their educational status, through age 26.

As a result, the uninsured rate dropped significantly for 18- to 25-year-olds -- from 22 percent in 2009 to 17 percent in 2011.

The survey, though subject to a statistical margin of error, also showed that 18- to 25-year-olds no longer have the highest uninsured rate. That distinction goes to Minnesota's 26- to 34-year-olds. Their aggregate uninsured rate increased from 15 percent to 19 percent.

This highly employed age group might be discouraged by the rising premiums and deductibles of their workplace health plans, or they might still be reeling from the "economic shock" of the recession, said Stefan Gildemeister, director of the Health Department's Health Economics Program.

"Even if there's been a slight improvement in the labor market, I think people still have economic concerns that result in their cautiousness about taking up coverage," he said.

Call said she expected a decline in the number of employers offering health benefits, but that figure held steady. What changed was the share of employees and dependents taking benefits offered to them. That rate dropped from 91.8 percent of people with access to workplace benefits in 2009 to 90.1 percent in 2011.

Of all uninsured Minnesotans, three-fourths have access to public or private workplace health benefits.

The findings may be reason for concern because the uninsured are less likely to obtain preventive medical care and are more likely to suffer infections and diseases at stages that are more difficult and expensive to treat.

The survey showed no change since 2009 in the number of Minnesotans on publicly subsidized insurance. Racial and ethnic disparities persisted; more than a quarter of the state's Hispanic residents lack health insurance.

Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744