New Census data highlight what’s at risk from federal health care threats

Ben Horowitz and Clark Goldenrod
Sep 12, 2017

The share of Minnesotans covered by health insurance is historically high, according to new U.S. Census data released today. Minnesota was already a national leader on this front before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provided our state with even more tools to connect Minnesotans with affordable health insurance.

In 2016, only 4.1 percent of Minnesotans went without health insurance. That’s an improvement over the 4.5 percent who lacked coverage in 2015. And it’s also markedly lower than the 8.2 percent of Minnesotans who went without insurance in 2013, the last year before the full rollout of the ACA.

Our low uninsurance rate is good enough to rank Minnesota fifth among the 50 states and Washington, D.C. However, Minnesota’s progress – and that of states across the country that have seen improvements in their health care coverage rates – is currently under threat.

Health care legislation proposed in the U.S. Congress would slash federal funding on health care assistance, for both Medicaid and the individual market. More than 1 million Minnesotans find affordable insurance through Medicaid, called Medical Assistance in Minnesota. Federal assistance to bring down the cost for those getting health insurance through the individual market means that many Minnesotans are shielded from increasing premiums, and also pay less for other out-of-pocket costs than they would have before the ACA.

Our avenues to affordable health insurance improve Minnesotans’ lives in many ways. Most obviously, participation in Medicaid has been linked to better overall health, and people insured through Medicaid are generally able to find health care similar to those with employer-based coverage. Children covered through Medicaid perform better in school, too. And following recent gains in health insurance coverage, less strain has been placed on our health care providers from bad debt or uncompensated care.

The ACA, Medical Assistance, and MinnesotaCare also play critical roles in reducing barriers for Minnesotans who have struggled to afford health care insurance. The pathways to affordable health insurance offered through the ACA undeniably benefited people who traditionally have had less access to health care coverage: people of color, young adults, part-time workers, those with less formal education, and those in low-income families.

But threats remain. In the U.S. House of Representatives, legislators approved giant cuts to Medicaid that finance huge tax cuts for high-income Americans, and insurance and other medical industry companies. Meanwhile, senators are still considering a proposal that would deeply cut federal funding for health care and remove important protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

The past several years, Census data on health insurance has told a story of how public policies have meant more Americans can afford health care for themselves and their families. Policymakers should build on that success instead of pulling the rug out from underneath the Americans who live and thrive because of it.

-Ben Horowitz and Clark Goldenrod