NEWS DAY | Cats, dogs, chocolate and public health


Far away from the hoopla at the Supreme Court, a couple of studies reported last week show that pets and chocolate have definite health benefits. The pet studies have been done over and over. The chocolate studies are small and not very reliable (translation: no peer reviewed studies yet), but if you like chocolate, you just got one more excuse to indulge. Pets and chocolate are small-time, individual health factors. The bigger picture is public health: how we can all get and stay healthier, how our state and national health measures up, and what we-the-people can or should do together.

Minnesota looks healthy when compared to other states. Take a closer look, and some cracks in the picture begin to appear.

We’re better than other states when it comes to the number of adults with diabetes. In Minnesota, only seven percent of adults have diabetes, compared to about nine percent nationwide. That’s good — but look a little closer. According to Compass research, “The percentage of adult Minnesotans with diabetes more than doubled between 1995 and 2010.”

Obesity is closely related to diabetes, as well as contributing to a host of other health problems, from hearts to joints. We are close to the national average with one in four adult Minnesotans weighing in as obese, an increase from one in six in 1995.

When it comes to health care coverage for these and other health problems, we look good. Compass reports, “Minnesota ranked sixth best among all states in the percentage of residents under 65 who had health care coverage in 2009.” That’s about 90 percent of all Minnesotans. (As with many measures, there’s a large racial disparity. People of color are more than twice as likely to be uninsured in Minnesota.)

The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, has made a big difference for Minnesotans in the two years since it passed. That’s true even though the most controversial portions are not scheduled to kick in for another two years, and have been hotly debated before the Supreme Court this week.

While many people think that Obamacare means a mandate for purchasing individual insurance, that’s not quite accurate and it’s definitely not the full story. The Affordable Care Act provides that individuals who do not have health insurance coverage from their employers must purchase individual coverage. Anyone who has group insurance coverage … keeps it. Anyone with Medicare — already covered.

Beyond insurance coverage for individuals, the Affordable Care Act also provides:

  • Discounts on prescription drugs for people on Medicare. That saved Minnesotans $19.7 million dollars in 2011. More than 30,000 Minnesotans got discounts on Medicare prescriptions because of Obamacare.
  • Expanded access to preventive care, ranging from pediatrician visits to colonoscopies on the other end of the age range. That meant better care (paid by insurance) for more than a million Minnesotans, and lower costs down the line for everybody.
  • Insurance coverage for young adults on their parents’ insurance plans was mandated by Obamacare, effective in September 2010. That means insurance companies had to allow parents to keep unmarried children on their insurance plans up to the age of 26. Nationally, less than 65 percent of young adults (ages 19-25) were insured in September 2010. That number rose rapidly to nearly 73 percent by mid-2011. (In Minnesota, about 81 percent of young adults were insured in 2010.)
  • Pre-existing conditions can no longer be used as a reason to deny coverage, thanks to Obamacare. Insurance companies are also no longer allowed to put a lifetime cap on benefits.

Next week is National Public Health Week. That’s a good reminder that health is about public policy, as well as eating your broccoli and riding your bike. So take some time to get better informed about health and public policy — and then relax with a movie at the Public Health Film Festival at the University of Minnesota, and take a little extra time to relax with your cat or dog or chocolate bar.

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