Study finds link between health care, poverty, race and premature death

Published 8:09 am Thursday, May 2, 2019

New research from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) finds that during a five-year period one in five deaths of Minnesotans younger than 75 were potentially avoidable with effective and timely health care treatment.

The study, Disparities in Premature Death Amenable to Health Care, 2011 to 2015, analyzed deaths in Minnesota between 2011 and 2015. Researchers looked for “health care amenable” or premature deaths related to diseases such as stroke, heart disease, treatable cancers and others that might have been prevented through timely and effective health care treatment.

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The analysis found that for those five years, 14,027 out of 76,907 deaths for Minnesota residents under age 75 were potentially avoidable with health care treatment. These premature deaths led to an estimated productivity loss for the state of $1.3 billion.

“Too many people under 75 had their lives cut short because of lack of access to effective and timely health care treatments,” said Minnesota Commissioner Jan Malcolm through a press release. “In Minnesota we can do better. Among other things, this study points out the urgent need to improve health care coverage and access and to ensure our healthcare system better meets the needs of all patients, which is a priority in Gov. Walz’s One Minnesota budget plan.”

The MDH study was not designed to determine the reasons why premature deaths occurred in Minnesota. However, other research has found that some factors that can contribute to a lack of access of care include the complexity of the system, lack of insurance coverage, the system’s failure to meet patient needs, systemic barriers related to structural racism or historical trauma, or the cost of care. This is particularly true for Minnesotans living in high-poverty census tracts and census tracts where half or more of the residents are people of color or American Indians. At the same time, the study did not have clinical information prior to the death record to examine specific barriers to accessing health care.

Minnesota had the lowest health-care-amenable death rates in the U.S. during this time, according to the Commonwealth Fund’s State Health System Ranking. However, the rate of potentially preventable deaths was more than twice as high for Minnesotans living in high poverty and racially diverse areas compared to majority white census tracts or higher income census tracts.

For the Minnesotans in this study who died before age 75, those living in higher income majority white census tracts lived an average of 57 years, while those living in low-income majority white census tracts lived 54 years. Among those in the study who were living in lower-income census tracts where the majority of people were people of color or American Indians and who died before age 75, the average was 50 years.

The higher rate of premature death in areas of high poverty led to an added $114 million per year in productivity loss than if these areas had the same statewide rate during 2011 to 2015. A disproportionate amount of this additional productivity loss, $73 million, was concentrated in areas that also had high diversity.

In addition, health care amenable mortality rates for surgical conditions, heart disease, maternal and infant conditions, and respiratory disease in these high-poverty areas were nearly double the statewide average.