ST. PAUL (AP) -- Minnesota had the lowest three-year average in the nation of people without health insurance, according to U.S. Census figures released Thursday.
The average from 1997-1999 was 8.8 percent, about half the national average of 16 percent. That compares with five southern states' averages of above 20 percent.
In 1999, Minnesota's uninsured rate was 8 percent, edged out only by Rhode Island, which boasted a national-low 6.9 percent.
Scott Leitz, director of health economics at the Minnesota Department of Health, called the figures "pleasing."
Several things have contributed to Minnesota's success, including high rates of employer-sponsored insurance coverage and a strong economy.
And the health department has taken steps to fill the gaps for people not covered by an employer, such as enrolling about 110,000 people in MinnesotaCare, the state's highly regarded health insurance program for the working poor, he said.
"We think that has had a really key impact," Leitz said.
Despite the successes, some gaps still exist, such as 70,000 kids under 21 who aren't covered, and racial and ethnical disparities, he said.
Last week, Minnesota received a $1.6 million grant from the federal government to compile better information on where the state can still improve its health insurance coverage.
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