Report: Health inequities cost Minnesota
Disparities in health outcomes between Minnesota's "haves" and "have-nots" takes a $2.26 billion yearly toll on the state's economy, contends a leading health insurer. Although the state prides itself in being one of the leaders in national healt...
Disparities in health outcomes between Minnesota's "haves" and "have-nots" takes a $2.26 billion yearly toll on the state's economy, contends a leading health insurer.
Although the state prides itself in being one of the leaders in national health statistics, people of color and low-income residents are left behind, said Janelle Waldock of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, which commissioned "The Cost of Health Inequities in Minnesota."
"In terms of Minnesota's overall health status, we do very well," said Waldock, the insurer's vice president of community health and health equity. "But ... we also face some of the most significant inequities in health of anywhere in the nation."
That's reflected in Duluth, where the life expectancy in ZIP codes 55802 and 55806 - including the Central Hillside and Lincoln Park - was 11 years less than in ZIP code 55812, which includes more affluent eastern neighborhoods, according to the St. Louis County Health Status Report in 2010.
"When you break it down, it shows how drastic the disparities are between people of color and the white population and between the wealthy and low-income households," said Brooke Wetmore, community development director at Zeitgeist. "So things like education and employment - all of those pieces - really feed into what we call the social determinants of health. Health comes from all of those things, so when those things exist, the health disparities are going to exist right with them."
The Blue Cross Blue Shield report argues the state as a whole pays a price. It concludes that 766 Minnesotans die prematurely each year and places a $2.12 billion price on their lost productivity. It adds $60.69 million and $82.6 million costs from lost employment and productivity from missed work time.
"This translates to a savings of $407 for every person in the state," the study's authors write. "Addressing health inequities means lives saved, money saved, higher productivity for businesses and more individuals being able to support their families."
Addressing the problem requires a "myriad" of actions both at the state and community levels, Waldock said, adding that some efforts already are underway. For example, she lauded the Duluth City Council for passing an ordinance restricting sales of menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products. She noted that menthol cigarettes are used by African-Americans at a disproportionately high rate.
Waldock also referenced the Grocery Express buses that gave residents of the Lincoln Park and Morgan Park neighborhoods access to West Duluth grocery stores.
That evolved into all Duluth Transit Authority buses having bins for groceries and various routes being labeled as grocery routes, said Wetmore, who was involved in initiating the effort.
Heath Hickok, the DTA's marketing director, said there now are 15 grocery routes - routes that come within a block of a grocery store - including the weekday Grocery Express S1, which makes a stop on Bristol Street next to the West Duluth Super One.
The Grocery Express was part of the larger Fair Food Access Campaign, which brought a farmers' market, expanded community gardens, food-skills classes and food production to Lincoln Park, Wetmore said.
Those efforts are spreading to other parts of town, she said. Essentia Health is bringing a farmers' market to the Central Hillside this summer. Like Lincoln Park's market, it will be operated by Community Action Duluth's Seeds of Success program.
Efforts already are bearing fruit, Wetmore said. Five years ago, in a canvass of the Lincoln Park neighborhood, 40 percent of respondents answered "yes," to the question: "In the last month, have you worried that you or your family will not have enough to eat?" Wetmore said. In the most recent survey, the "yes" answers were between 15 and 20 percent.
"We're nowhere near done, but we're starting to chip away at those numbers," she said.