Minnesota reports lowest-ever uninsured rate, but racial disparities worsened

Minnesota saw its lowest-ever rate of uninsured residents in 2021, according to survey results released Thursday, yet racial disparities in coverage got significantly worse.

The Minnesota Department of Health said the state’s uninsured rate fell last year to 4% due in large part to decisions by state-federal Medicaid programs to maintain coverage for lower-income residents throughout the pandemic.

As a result, 34,000 fewer Minnesotans went without health insurance in 2021 compared to 2019, according to the Health Department’s survey on health insurance coverage, which is taken every other year.

But the uninsured rate among Minnesotans of color and American Indians rose from 7.6% in 2019 to 10.2% in 2021. For non-Hispanic whites, uninsured rate during the time period dropped from 3.7% in 2019 to 2.4% in 2021.

“The investments we made before and during the pandemic to ensure Minnesotans had access to affordable health coverage helped more people stay insured, even in the midst of job losses and economic instability,” Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said in a statement.

“Sadly, we saw that people of color and American Indians did not benefit as much from these efforts,” Malcolm said. “We must learn about what worked and what didn’t so we can adapt our approach to reach the goal of ongoing and equitable access to affordable health care for all Minnesotans.”

The 4% uninsured rate essentially tied 2015 for the lowest measured rate since the survey began, the Health Department said. The latest numbers show that just one-in-five Minnesotans said they went without some type of needed health care due to cost barriers in 2021, better than the 25% rate two years earlier.

Growth in public health insurance coverage offsets declines in private coverage. However, the Health Department noted expanded access to publicly-subsidized coverage is scheduled to expire this year.

Beyond maintaining coverage for Medicaid beneficiaries, the federal government enhanced and expanded subsidies for people buying individual health plans through health exchanges like Minnesota’s MNsure program.

“Historically, Minnesota has enjoyed a strong labor market and a strong employer-sponsored insurance market,” Kathleen Call, a professor with the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, said in a statement.

But, she said, the erosion of private coverage for financial reasons over the past two decades “reminds us that continued commitments are needed to support and promote Medical Assistance, MinnesotaCare and premium subsidies in the individual market available through MNsure.”

Kall is an investigator at the State Health Access Data Assistance Center, which helped conduct the survey. The center tabulated responses from more than 18,000 Minnesotans between October 2021 and January 2022.

While COVID-19 might have delayed some care, the survey results suggest it didn’t keep most people from eventually getting services. COVID-19 concerns accounted for just 8% of those not receiving health care. The primary reasons were cost and not needing it, according to the survey.

The survey also found the pandemic drove declines in both physical and mental health.

“The number of unhealthy days reported for a 30-day period climbed to an average 3.3 days for physical health and 4.3 days for mental health, compared to 2.8 for physical health and 3.7 for mental health in 2019,” the Health Department said in a newsrelease.

Leave a Comment