"The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through." -- Sydney J. Harris

Sixth annual Disparities Report shows progress, but gaps remain

A growing number of children are getting their asthma under control in Minnesota, including children covered by Minnesota Health Care Programs, according to data from the sixth annual Health Care Disparities Report produced by MN Community Measurement for the Minnesota Department of Human Services. But much more work remains to be done.

The improvements resulting from optimal asthma management are illustrated by groups like Fairview Medical Group clinics, where 186 more children covered by publicly-funded health care programs met statewide goals in the second year of tracking asthma care.

In fact, at some clinics, like Fairview Lakes Medical Center, children on publicly funded programs are managing asthma better than kids on employer-sponsored insurance. (Both groups of children are performing well in optimal asthma care, which includes controlling symptoms, evaluating risk of exacerbation, and developing asthma action plans.)

Other health care systems have also made progress on treating children with asthma and Minnesotans with a variety of health conditions. According to the new report, the disparities gap is shrinking statewide for children’s asthma care, childhood immunizations, sore throat care and cervical and breast cancer screening.

“We know that people in publicly funded programs, especially people of color or with language barriers, have poorer health care outcomes than the general public,” said Jim Chase, president of MN Community Measurement.  “The key to our work has been to show where medical groups have improved results for those patients, and then share information to encourage others to make positive changes, as well.”

But more work remains to be done to close gaps between people covered by Medicaid and those who have commercial insurance: 11 of the 13 measures being tracked showed significantly lower outcomes for people covered by the public state programs. The largest gaps persist in optimal diabetes care, optimal vascular care and colorectal cancer screening.

The report also analyzes whether patients enrolled in Minnesota Health Care Programs are receiving better care over time. Nine of 13 measures improved for Minnesota Health Care Program patients from 2011 to 2012. For the eight measures that have been tracked for three or more years, all have shown improvements over time.

In addition, within the population covered by Minnesota Health Care Programs, differences exist by race and Hispanic ethnicity, including:

  • Controlling high blood pressure: Blacks/African-Americans have a significantly lower rate for controlling blood pressure than the average for patients in state programs.
  • Appropriate treatment for children with upper respiratory infection: Whites have the lowest rate and are the only group with performance significantly below the state average.
  • Appropriate testing for  children with pharyngitis (sore throat): Asians have the lowest rate.

The Health Care Disparities Report publishes performance rates for patients in the managed care component of Minnesota Health Care Programs, including Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare. Because people who are poor, people with disabilities and people of color are over-represented in those programs, comparing Minnesota Health Care Program patients to employee-sponsored patients demonstrates Minnesota’s health care disparities.

More than 800,000 Minnesotans receive health care coverage through Minnesota Health Care Programs overseen by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. The Department of Human Services sponsors the report by MN Community Measurement as part of their mutual commitment to making health care disparities data public. Sharing the data helps providers and systems recognize the gaps and take steps to improve their performance.

Download the full 2012 Health Care Disparities Report.

View this article and others in The Measurement Minute – August 2013 newsletter.