More rural Minnesotans have health insurance now

The percentage of people without health insurance is now the same for urban and rural Minnesota, the Health Department says.

The number of Minnesotans without health insurance has been shrinking. And a new analysis from the Minnesota Department of Health says the change is happening fastest in rural parts of the state.

A statement released Monday says among adults younger than 65 in rural Minnesota, 12 percent had no insurance in 2011. That figure was a couple points lower for adults under 65 in urban areas, with the uninsured rate at 10 percent.

By 2015 the rural uninsured rate had dropped to 5 percent – which was the same as the rate in urban areas.

Check out this graph showing the drop, and how the gap has closed:

Minnesota children without health insurance are down to 3 percent in both metro and urban areas, the state figures show. Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger called it encouraging that the rural/urban insurance disparities have been eliminated.

Ehlinger says the rising number of insured Minnesotans is tied to the federal Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) but there's no real proof of what caused it. The state Health Department released three different studies Monday (one, two, and three) looking at changes in rural health care since the Affordable Care Act was passed.

Rural health care issues remain

Most Minnesotans get health insurance through their job. That's true all over the state, but in rural areas the percentage of people who buy coverage on their own or use a public insurance program is higher, the Health Department says.

So when the cost of individual coverage soared this year, the sting was felt in Greater Minnesota especially. The legislature approved more than $500 million in subsidies last month to help those who pay for their own insurance. But high costs and fewer health care options are still a sore spot outstate.

The Minnesota Farmers Union held more than a dozen forums around the state in March and April to find out what was on the minds of rural residents. Health care costs and access were at the top of the list.

The Minnesota Rural Health Association in a February presentation to lawmakers said the state's rural residents are older, have lower incomes and are less healthy ... but their health care options are fewer and farther apart. They say rural areas have half of Minnesota's population but only one-sixth of its doctors practice there.

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