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Number of uninsured state-wide sees big drop

A new report indicates the number of Minnesotans without health insurance has dropped by more than 40 percent in the months since MNSure and the Affordable Care Act went into effect, and health officials say the trend is starting to show up to some degree locally.

A University of Minnesota study released Wednesday reported the drop in the number of uninsured people within the state correspond with the period of time when open health insurance enrollment was offered under the act, commonly known as Obamacare. And area health officials say that trend is being reflected here to a small degree.

“We have started to see a very gradual increase in especially our Medicaid population and a small decease in the number who are self-paid,” said Eric Lohn, chief financial officer at St. Luke’s hospital.

The study reported the number of uninsured Minnesotans fell by 40.6 percent between Sept. 30 and May 1. The drop corresponded with the period of time when open health insurance enrollment was offered under the Affordable Care Act.

According to the study, conducted by the University of Minnesota’s State Access Health Data Assistance Center, the number of uninsured Minnesotans fell by nearly 180,500 — from 445,000 to 264,500 — between Sept. 30 and May 1. That meant the percentage of uninsured Minnesotans fell from 8.2 percent to 4.9 percent.

That’s the lowest rate since records have been kept, according to MNsure, the agency that guides Minnesota’s online health insurance marketplace.

Open enrollment in the state’s MNsure site, as in other sites nationwide, began Oct. 1.

St. Luke’s, so far, is seeing a trend, although not the dramatic numbers indicated by the U of M study, Lohn said.

“It’s a trend that we can see starting probably in February through April, which is the last data that we have,” he said.

The effort to reach the uninsured was aided by an aggressive outreach in the Duluth area, said Rolene Lampi, director of business services at St. Luke’s.

“We’re very unique in the way that the Insure Duluth coalition had a concerted effort and included many providers and nonprofit organizations in our community to help with that,” she said.

The coalition, spearheaded by the nonprofit Generations Health Care Initiative, was formed in response to a higher uninsured rate in the Duluth area than in the state as a whole. Last year, Duluth, Proctor and Hermantown had an uninsured rate of 11 percent.

The U of M study did not break down uninsured rates regionally in its study, a spokeswoman said.

The study found that the largest increase was in state-sponsored insurance programs, an increase of 155,000 in Medical Assistance (Minnesota’s Medicaid program) and Minnesota Care. The number of Minnesotans in private health insurance programs increased by about 30,000, it said.

Lohn said the increase noticed at St. Luke’s so far has been almost entirely in Medicaid, not in private insurance. Minnesota was one of 24 states that chose to expand its Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act.

State officials celebrated the numbers reported on Wednesday.

“Through the efforts of so many people throughout Minnesota during open enrollment, this state has brought affordable coverage to hundreds of thousands, many for the first time ever,” MNsure CEO Scott Leitz said in a statement. “This is extraordinary news for the people of Minnesota.”

Gov. Mark Dayton called the news an indication that health reform is headed in the right direction in Minnesota.

“From offering the lowest health insurance rates in the nation to securing the lowest uninsured rate in state history, health reform is working in Minnesota,” he said in a statement.

Lampi said the Affordable Care Act seems to be producing savvier patients who are asking more questions about their care.

“And the occasional consumer has a concern that the insurance rates are just a little bit high for them,” she said.

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