New data from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) shows that health insurance coverage in Minnesota will be mixed in 2021. While state authorities’ initiatives helped the state’s uninsured rate decreased to the lowest level ever recorded, racial gaps in coverage grew.
Minnesota’s health insurance coverage was protected from the pandemic’s economic blow by federal and state rules and financing in 2021. With these efforts, the state’s uninsured rate dropped to 4.0 percent, the lowest recorded level, nearly tying the 2015 rate.
Because of the relationship between employment and health insurance coverage, economic downturns often result in more significant percentages of uninsurance in the United States. Minnesota took steps to avert insurance loss in 2020 and 2021 with state and federal money support, including government efforts to retain coverage for low-income Minnesotans and premium subsidies in the individual market. According to the Minnesota Health Access Survey, 34,000 fewer Minnesotans did not have health insurance in 2021 than in 2019. In 2021, fewer Minnesotans (20%) indicated they went without required health care because of the cost compared to 2019. (25 percent ).
However, not everyone in Minnesota was able to get or keep coverage. The uninsured rate among Minnesotans of color and American Indians increased from 7.6% in 2019 to 10.2% in 2021, worsening racial inequities. Non-Hispanic Whites, on the other hand, saw their uninsured rate decline from 3.7 percent in 2019 to 2.4 percent in 2021.
Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm stated, “The investments we made before and during the pandemic to ensure Minnesotans had access to affordable health coverage helped more individuals stay insured, especially in job losses and economic turmoil. Unfortunately, we saw that these efforts did not as well serve persons of color and American Indians. We need to figure out what worked and what didn’t so we can adjust our strategy to ensure that all Minnesotans have access to affordable health care in the future.”
In 2021, the number of Minnesotans with insurance climbed by 238,000, and 41.2 percent of those insured were through public insurance programs such as Medicare, Medical Assistance, and MinnesotaCare. This increase in general coverage compensated for a drop in the private range, which fell from 57.8% in 2019 to 54.8% in 2021.
While most Minnesotans had health insurance during the first two years of the pandemic, there are concerns about sustaining coverage in the future. Many government programs that provided financial assistance to families, raised subsidies for commercial health insurance plans sold via MNsure to make insurance more affordable, or let people remain on Medicaid for extended periods have ceased or are expected to end this year.
Kathleen Call, a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and an investigator at the State Health Access Data Assistance Center, said, “Historically, Minnesota has enjoyed a strong labor market and a strong employer-sponsored insurance market. However, the pandemic’s long-term erosion of private coverage, combined with the fact that not all employees are offered insurance and not all Minnesotans can afford it, reminds us that continued commitments are needed to support and promote Medical Assistance, MinnesotaCare, and premium subsidies in the individual market available through MNsure.”
COVID-19 may have delayed care in 2021, according to the survey, but it did not prevent most patients from receiving care ultimately. Only 8% of those not receiving health care were affected by COVID-19 concerns in the second year of the pandemic. The most common reasons for not using health care were expense and a lack of need.
According to the poll, physical and mental health deteriorated during the pandemic. In 2019, the average number of sick days reported for 30 days was 3.3 for physical fitness and 4.3 for mental health, up from 2.8 for physical health and 3.7 for mental health 2019.
“The estimates that Minnesotans will have fewer healthy days in 2021 are troubling, especially given the persistent burden on the state’s health-care personnel and structural vulnerabilities in mental health treatment,” said Stefan Gildemeister, MDH state health economist. “As the state proceeds into the next stage of the epidemic and the economy recovers, we will continue to examine how effective our investments in community connections and resources during the pandemic were in reversing residual effects to physical and mental health.”
The Minnesota Health Access Survey is a biennial state-based population survey that determines how many individuals in Minnesota have health insurance and how simple it is to obtain health care. The survey collaborates between MDH and the State Health Access Data Assistance Center at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. Between October 2021 and January 2022, more than 18,000 Minnesotans participated in the poll conducted across the state. The MDH Health Economics Program website has more information about the survey’s findings.