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Pioneer Editorial: Worrisome trends face new leader

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Pioneer Editorial: Worrisome trends face new leader
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

One in 10 Minnesotans didn't have health care insurance last year, a figure that has grown over the decade, according to new U.S. Census Bureau data released Thursday. And, further, it shows that the percent of Minnesotans in employer-provided health insurance has dropped over the decade.

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Since the beginning of the decade, the number of Minnesotans without health insurance increased by 100,000, says the Minnesota Budget Project, which provides independent research, analysis and advocacy on budget and tax issues to the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.

Meanwhile, in 2008-09, 69 percent of Minnesotans had employer-provided coverage, down from 77 percent in 1999-00. That decline, the Minnesota Budget Plan claims, translates into 300,000 Minnesotans losing their employer-provided insurance.

The Budget Project notes that how people are getting health insurance is also changing, with more and more people relying on government-provided health services. A larger shift shows that government health care programs, such as Medicaid, are filling the gap. Even though Gov. Tim Pawlenty has tried to close that door, new enrollees into Medicaid-- also known as Medical Assistance -- rose by more than 300,000 since the start of the decade, including 137,000 children. But because of efforts to hold down public health insurance enrollees, those served has not been enough to overcome both the loss of employer-sponsored health care and population growth, says The Budget Plan.

Add to that the Great Recession, and the new U.S. Census study shows that U.S. poverty levels jumped by 2 percent in 2009, but preliminary numbers for Minnesota show the state's poverty rate rising 4 percent -- double the national rate during the same time since the start of the decade. The state's poverty level rose to 10.5 percent in 2008.09. The latest Children's Defense Fund figures show 25.2 percent of children age 17 and under in poverty in 2008.

Those are not good trends as they put stress on housing, health care, food and other services. And the numbers would be even worse without state and federal aid.

President Barack Obama on Friday cited other statistics from the U.S. Census study that show that between 2001 and 2009, the incomes of middle-class families fell by nearly 5 percent.

The next Minnesota governor will face a $5.8 billion state budget deficit or worse, and all three major candidates are now vetting their budget plans. But these figures speak to the root of the problem -- rising poverty, unaffordable health care and slipping wages -- requiring more thoughtful solutions than just moving numbers on a budget sheet.

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