Despite progress, racial health disparities remain


Minnesota is making progress on eliminating racial disparities in health care, but a lot of work remains to be done, members of a House committee learned.

Health Department Assistant Commissioner Patricia Adams told members of the House Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight Committee that 2001 legislation intended to curb disparities in infant mortality rates, immunizations and other health indicators is showing some positive results.

“While not all of the goals have been met, substantial progress has been made,” Adams said.

Among 45 disparity indicators tracked by the department’s eight-year-old Eliminating Health Disparities Initiative, 11 percent have been eliminated and 51 percent have shown improvement; however, 13 percent have actually shown an increase in disparity. (Another 22 percent had no past or current disparities, Adams said.)

As examples, Adams presented tables showing that disparities in the rates of heart disease mortality between white and black Minnesotans had been more than 94 percent eliminated, while the disparity between whites and Native American Minnesotans increased by nearly 38 percent.

Adams emphasized that collecting health data by race is a “major challenge,” and said it is difficult to accurately compare data in certain health areas like immunizations, since few historical records existed before the program began.

Poverty rates increasing

Committee members also received an update on Minnesota’s poverty rate, which State Demographer Tom Gillaspy said is increasing.

Gillaspy testified that recent trends show Minnesota’s poverty rate increasing along with the U.S. rate, although Minnesota’s poverty rate of 9.6 percent remains lower than the 13.2 percent national average. Gillaspy said that between 2007 and 2008, the state’s poverty rate increased by 1.9 percent, and added that the rate of people at 100 to 150 percent of the poverty level also went up by 10.1 percent.

Gillaspy said the statistics that are currently available are “frustrating” in that they do not reflect the massive economic changes that have occurred since 2008.