By STEVE KARNOWSKI
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ The federal health overhaul has helped cut the ranks of uninsured people in Minnesota by about 40 percent, University of Minnesota researchers reported Wednesday in the first major assessment of the law’s effect in the state.
The study estimated that the number of uninsured Minnesotans fell by 180,500 from Sept. 30 to May 1 _ from about 445,000 people to about 264,500. That represents a decrease from 8 percent of the state’s population to 5 percent.
“One of the major goals of the Affordable Care Act is to get close to universal health insurance. With the 40 percent reduction in the uninsured we found, there’s been some rapid progress toward that goal,” said lead author Julie Sonier, deputy director of the university’s State Health Access Data Assistance Center.
Minnesota’s health insurance exchange, MNsure, commissioned the study. Its executive director, Scott Leitz, called the findings “extremely significant” and said they show that the exchange’s efforts have “really paid off.”
In a sign of the Obama administration’s interest, White House spokesmen Jay Carney tweeted the 40 percent reduction and a link to the study to his over 500,000 followers.
The authors said the study is the first to measure the reduction in the number of uninsured people in one state since open enrollment began on exchanges across the country last fall. They also said their findings are consistent with recent nationwide studies showing smaller declines nationwide, including a Gallup survey that showed a drop in the share of uninsured adults from 17 percent in the fourth quarter last year to 13 percent in April.
Sonier said changes in the numbers of uninsured will vary from state to state because of their policy decisions and the number of uninsured they had to start. For example, declines have been larger in states like Minnesota that have opted to both expand eligibility for their Medicaid programs and set up their own exchanges, Gallup found.
The biggest driver of Minnesota’s reduction was higher enrollment in the publicly run Medicaid and MinnesotaCare programs, which jumped by 155,000 people combined. Enrollment by individuals in private insurance plans showed a net gain of almost 36,000 Minnesotans. That includes policies sold through MNsure and by insurance carriers directly. The number of people enrolled in group plans, primarily through employers, held relatively steady at around 3 million with an estimated decline of about 6,000, or 0.2 percent.
Minnesota’s human services commissioner, Lucinda Jesson, noted that two-thirds of the Minnesotans who were uninsured before the overhaul qualified for public programs but had not enrolled. Stepped-up outreach efforts “really mattered” in signing them up, she said, as did changes that made it easier for others to qualify for them.
The relatively steady group plan enrollment dispels fears that employers would drop coverage and force workers to get insurance elsewhere, she said.
Some important questions on how the Affordable Care Act has changed the insurance landscape in Minnesota will require further study, the authors acknowledged. Those questions include how many of the 236,745 Minnesotans who had signed up through MNsure as of Wednesday didn’t have insurance before, and how many had some kind of coverage but switched to policies they bought on MNsure or found out via MNsure that they qualified for public programs.
Co-author Elizabeth Lukanen, another SHADAC researcher, said they’re planning another study to address those questions and plan to release those results late this fall.
Leitz said the studies will help MNsure better understand who the remaining uninsured Minnesotans are and tailor its outreach and marketing campaigns to them.
Jesson said she’d been telling people for two years that it was possible to cut the state’s uninsured by half.
“Here we’ve cut it by almost half, 40 percent, in eight months’ time. That’s truly significant. But I won’t be totally happy until everybody has health insurance,” she said.
The study is available at: http://www.shadac.org/MinnesotaCoverageReport