Editorial Roundup: State should take action on uninsured rate

Published 8:43 pm Thursday, September 20, 2018

growing number of people without insurance will push costs up for everyone.

The number of people without health insurance rose in Minnesota last year, and that threatens to increase costs for medical providers and insurance companies who will be forced to pass on those costs to all Minnesotans who have health insurance.

But the state government, providers and consumers can play a role in mitigating the risk of those cost increases.

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Some 243,000 Minnesotans went without health insurance last year, an increase of 18,000 people compared to 2016, according to a report by the Census Bureau. Minnesota still has one of the lowest rates of uninsured in the country at 4.5 percent. The national level is 8.8 percent.

The Minnesota Department of Health put the uninsured rate at 6.5 percent using somewhat different methods, according to a report in the Star Tribune. That would a more significant increase from a rate of 4.3 percent uninsured from 2015.

Health care economists told the Star Tribune the rate of increase is troubling particularly because it came at a time of fairly robust economic growth and low unemployment rates. Other experts noted that the upward trend is troubling because there is no real safety net for those who have enough income to make them ineligible for government programs, but not enough to afford good insurance.

But there are solutions. The state estimates that about half of the people without insurance could qualify for government Medicaid programs or for help paying premiums. The first and easiest solution would be to make a robust effort to publicize the help programs to the uninsured population.

Experts also note the cost of health care puts pressure on premiums, making them less affordable. The state has programs that offer incentives for providers who become more efficient and coordinate care. Those programs should be expanded.

And third, consumers, even those with robust insurance policies, should evaluate their need for costly care. Those decisions are made easier by price transparency. If consumers know how much a procedure costs their insurance company and can compare those costs with other providers, they can make good choices on care.

Minnesota has just scratched the surface on providing price transparency. Several proposals in the Legislature for requiring transparency have been introduced but not gotten very far. There are public reports that also show average prices at different providers, but they are sometimes not complete or user friendly for intensive price scrutiny.

The health care cost and affordability dilemma will not go away on its own. It requires focused and urgent action by the state, providers and consumers.

— Mankato Free Press, Sept. 13

About Editorial Roundup

Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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