Minnesota slides in health rankings, headed for worse

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The America’s Health Rankings report from the United Health Foundation was just released, and they found that Minnesota, once a leader in health care, is now 6th in the country. Here is the kicker though: the way things are going, it is unlikely that we will be able to change our downward trajectory anytime soon.

The good news is there are still many areas where we are slipping only slightly: Minnesota has a low premature death rate, a low rate of deaths from cardiovascular disease, low infant mortality, low rate of uninsured, and a low rate of occupational fatalities. As for the bad news, we have had a significant increase in the rate for children in poverty, from 9.7 percent to 15.6 percent over the past five years, immunization coverage has declined from 84.7 percent to 77.4 percent since last year, we have seen an increase in obesity, there is insufficient prenatal care, and we struggle with comparably low public health funding.

Being number six is not bad; anytime one is in the top ten a pad on the back is warranted. Our problem, though, is that we were number one for four consecutive years up until 2006, then we fell down one spot, which is still pretty darn good. Come 2008, and Minnesota is ranked third in the country, which is still great. Cue to today, suddenly we are sixth, in itself not horrible, not even particularly bad except for the fact that we keep slipping and it seems to be a trend rather than a once-off.

What is Minnesota doing to turn things around? From the looks of it, not that much.

The Governor’s cuts to GAMC will increase our number of uninsured come March 1, since not all GAMC recipients are qualified for the automatic transfer to MinnesotaCare. After the six month grace period is over, it is likely that many GAMC recipients will be unable to maintain their coverage through MinnesotaCare due to the procedural requirements and cost. The discontinuation of GAMC is part of a larger $1 billion cut to Health and Human Services and it remains to be seen just how these cuts will affect other programs.

“The Future Costs of Obesity” report [PDF] says obesity rates will grow to an estimated 36.7 percent  in Minnesota by 2018, if we stay on the current course, with related health care spending at $5,798,000,000. Despite the legislature’s commitment to end poverty by 2020, the number and rate of children living in poverty is steadily increasing.

Most of what Minnesota does well — low premature death rate, a low rate of deaths from cardiovascular disease, low infant mortality — comes from the fact that we have a low rate of uninsured people in the state. But, if this changes with the end to GAMC and overall cuts to the Department of Human Services, it is a good chance that there will be negative consequences to our low premature death rate, low cardiovascular deaths, and low infant mortality.

Minnesota has been touted the shining star of the nation in terms of health care; we have presidents and aspiring presidents looking to Minnesota as a state that has done things right. But it is time we stop resting on our laurels and realize that health care is an ongoing concern that should not be put on the back-burner, nor should it be where we cut funding to balance the budget. I would hate to be one of those parents who tell my kids “when I was young, things were so much better” and actually be right.