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Uninsured rate up in Minnesota

A jump in the percentage of Minnesota residents who don't have health insurance isn't surprising, a legislator from Duluth said on Tuesday.

"The GOP feds eliminated the cost-sharing subsidies for individuals," said state Rep. Jen Schultz, DFL-Duluth. "Health insurance is simply not affordable for many Minnesotans."

The uninsured rate was 6.3 percent in 2017, the Minnesota Department of Health reported on Tuesday, up from 4.3 percent two years earlier. It's still well below the rates in 2009 and 2011, just before the start of the Affordable Care Act, but slightly higher than the 2001 rate of 6.1 percent.

Schultz, an economist at the University of Minnesota Duluth who specializes in health policy, blamed Republicans for policies she said have made health insurance less affordable. The "reinsurance program" the state Legislature approved last year was a $500 million giveaway to insurers with no promise of premium relief, she said.

"Premiums didn't go up as much as they told us they would, but they still went up significantly," Schultz said.

Even some people who have health insurance through their employers can no longer afford their premiums, Schultz said.

She noted that the increase in the uninsured rate occurs at a time when unemployment is low in Minnesota. But many people are working part-time jobs and don't qualify for a work-related plan, but make too much for subsidized care, Schultz said.

"My theory is it could get worse ... because premiums are even higher for 2018," Schultz said.

The 6.3 percent uninsured rate means about 349,000 Minnesotans are without coverage, according to a health department news release. That's about 116,000 more than two years earlier.

The numbers arose from the 2017 Minnesota Health Access Survey, conducted by the health department along with the University of Minnesota.

The findings were "a bit of a surprise," to Megan Halena, program director for Generations Health Care Initiatives in Duluth.

Generations spearheads the Insure Duluth coalition that spurs participation in the MNsure health insurance marketplace in the region. Regional enrollment numbers have continued to climb, Halena said.

The local gains have come, in part, from children, Native Americans and people with incomes below poverty, Halena said. The state survey reported gains in the same areas, she noted.

In spite of the gains, Native Americans and lower-income Minnesotans remain among the groups that are more likely to be uninsured, according to the news release. Also less likely to be insured are people of color and young adults (ages 18-34).