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'Uninsurance rate' up, but not substantially in the Arrowhead region

The percentage of people in the Arrowhead region without health insurance continues an upward trend, according to results of a statewide survey released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Health.

The percentage of people in the Arrowhead region without health insurance continues an upward trend, according to results of a statewide survey released Thursday by the Minnesota Department of Health.

The region's "uninsurance rate" went from 6.1 percent in 2001 to 9.1 percent in 2007, said the preliminary report on health insurance coverage in Minnesota by the state health department and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. In terms of the statistical model used, the increase is not considered significant. Statisticians would call it unchanged.

Still, the rates appear to be increasing, Kathleen Call, assistant professor in the School of Public Health, said in a phone interview. "All you can say is that there's an upward trend," she said.

And while the state as a whole had an uninsured rate of 7.2 percent -- almost 2 percent lower than the Arrowhead's -- that difference also was statistically insignificant, Call said.

"We feel confident that the difference between your region and the state is not significant," she said. "These are all estimates and they all have margins of error around them."

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Statewide, about 374,000 people were uninsured last year. Four years ago, the rate of uninsured was statistically unchanged at7.7 percent.

The uninsured rate for nonmetro Minnesota in 2007 was 7.9 percent, virtually unchanged from 2004. That's good news, state health officials say, because from 2001-04, the rate of uninsured people grew, partly because of a decrease in employer-offered coverage.

An estimated 70.4 percent of Minnesotans younger than 65 had health insurance through their employers last year, while another 5.7 percent bought individual policies; 15.7 percent were on public medical coverage.

"There was no further erosion in employer coverage between 2004 and 2007, and that is good news given the continued cost increases that we have seen," Julie Sonier, director of the health economics program at the health department, said in a statement. "However, we need to find ways to slow the growth of costs in order to maintain and improve affordability and access to coverage."

When broken out by race, income and age, there were substantial variations in the rates of uninsured Minnesotans. Nineteen percent of adults from 18 to 24 years old were without insurance and nearly 18 percent with family incomes below the federal poverty level of $20,650 or less for a family of four had no insurance, according to the report.

The upward trend in the uninsurance rate in the Arrowhead region doesn't surprise Wende Nelson, executive director of the Lake Superior Community Health Center. About 80 percent of the medical clients at the health center are uninsured. The clinic saw a 17 percent client increase from 2006 to 2007.

"This trend is not going to change," she said, until great changes are made in the nation's health-care system.

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