New Census data highlight Minnesota’s health care gains

Ben Horowitz
Sep 13, 2016

According to Census data released today, Minnesota retained our status as a national leader when it comes to the share of our residents with health insurance. Thanks to our investments in policies that help people who can’t afford private health insurance, fewer people are forced into a choice between paying for either the health care they need or their other basic necessities.

In 2015, only 4.5 percent of Minnesotans went without health insurance, compared to 5.9 percent in 2014 and 8.2 percent in 2013. These decreases mean that 44 percent fewer Minnesotans lacked health insurance last year compared to 2013; it also means that Minnesota ranks fifth in health care coverage rates among the states and Washington, DC. Nationwide, 9.4 percent of Americans lack health insurance, down from 11.7 percent in 2014 and 14.5 percent in 2013.

Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare are important parts of Minnesota’s health insurance success story. When people are struggling to make ends meet, these publicly-financed options ensure that affordable health care remains within their reach. More Minnesotans qualified for Medical Assistance beginning in 2014 thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

By expanding Medical Assistance, Minnesota took advantage of a federal policy allowing states to save money while providing health insurance and improving the health of more of their residents. The federal government is covering the entire cost of the expansion through 2016. In the future, federal funding will pay for at least 90 percent of the expansion’s price. In states that expanded Medicaid, hospitals are treating fewer uninsured patients — and they are receiving a higher federal reimbursement rate for the treatments provided. Efforts like Medical Assistance that provide a cost-effective health care option pay off in other ways, too. Medicaid has been linked to improved overall health for enrollees and better performance in school for kids.

If Minnesota is going to continue to move closer to being a state where health insurance is within reach for everyone, the state will need to address the persistent racial disparities in coverage rates. From 2013 to 2014, these racial disparities shrank; we’ll know more about their current status when the Census releases additional data on Thursday.

To build on Minnesota’s momentum towards ever-higher rates of health care coverage, policymakers should:

  • Restore eligibility for MinnesotaCare. Other data show that Minnesotans earning 200-275 percent of the federal poverty guidelines ($24,000-$33,000 for a single person) — particularly Minnesotans of color — are much more likely to lack health insurance than those earning more. Prior to 2014, many in this income range would have been eligible for MinnesotaCare; the state could restore that eligibility and may even save money in the process.
  • Address the lack of affordable health care options for undocumented Minnesotans.
  • Protect existing publicly-financed health care options by preserving the provider tax. The provider tax finances MinnesotaCare and a portion of Medical Assistance, but legislation passed in 2011 means the tax is scheduled to disappear in 2020. That would put affordable health care at risk for more than 100,000 Minnesotans.

Today’s news affirms that Minnesota and the nation have made great strides in making health insurance coverage available to more people. With stronger evidence every year that policy choices make a real difference in people’s ability to find health care coverage, Minnesota’s policymakers have good reason to push for even more progress in 2017.

-Ben Horowitz