How health inequities hit our pocketbooks

The economic case for reducing disparities in prevention and treatment

 Janelle Waldock
Janelle Waldock Photo courtesy of Blue Cross

Minnesota’s health inequities annually cost the state at least $2 billion, according to a new Blue Cross Blue Shield report.

The study, released in April and commissioned by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota and the University of Minnesota, says that hundreds of lives could be saved and healthcare costs could be lowered annually if health inequities were addressed in Minnesota –especially in communities of color where such inequities are disproportionately found.

The report breakdown predicts that annually 766 lives could be saved, employment increased for 1,034 workers, and 56 weeks gained in increased productivity for a total economic value of $2.26 billion saved in Minnesota. It also noted that people of color face significant health challenges compared to the general population: Blacks suffer from diabetes, kidney, liver and heart disease 1.5 times the rate of the general population.

The comparable numbers in other communities of color are, for Native Americans, four to six times; for Asians, three times, and for Latinos, 1.2 times.

Furthermore, the report points out that the $2.26 billion, if saved, could be used to build 54 new hospitals, 15 new high schools, provide annual assisted living costs for more than 47,000 people, and cover annual nursing home costs for over 25,000 people.

As a result, legislators, policymakers and business people are urged to seriously look at the report’s findings and begin working with communities of color “to identify solutions that address the root causes of death and diseases,” Blue Cross Vice President of Community Health and Health Equity Janelle Waldock said in an MSR phone interview.

“It is the first time we found…how much the inequities are costing us,” she pointed out. “I can’t help but feel taken aback on what a big number that is. It is surprising and quite sobering.  We should all care about it because it is hitting our pocketbooks.

“We believe strongly that communities of color have to be part of the solution” in addressing health inequities, Waldock said. “We don’t have all the answers, but the communities themselves have the knowledge and the power, and it’s the role of our organization to help communities.

“We think the leadership in these communities are the most powerful [voices] to be part of the solution,” said Waldock.