Will health disparities drive economic change?

The health of poorer Americans and their access to healthcare services may become a big driver of economic change on the state level, according to Stateline.

A crusade to push up the minimum wage in Minnesota--one of the lowest in the entire country--failed when those supporting an increase asserted that raising pay would put more money in the pockets of poor people and their families.

However, advocates for higher wages received far more attention and momentum when they made a connection between health and income levels. A study performed by the Minnesota Department of Health concluded that the wealthiest residents of Minneapolis lived eight years longer than its poorest residents. Other data has concluded that the death rates of the state's African-American and Native American communities are far higher than those of white Minnesotans and that health disparities are among the reasons for the stark differentials.

Health disparities along racial lines are not restricted to just Minnesota. Data has suggested that other states, such as Georgia, also have wide disparities in access to health and patient outcomes. Some scholars have suggested cellphone applications could address health disparities, but there has not been a coordinated effort on the national level.

Minnesota's health department has since released another study on health equity that focuses on how "structural racism" has had a huge impact on policies intended to improve the health of Minnesotans. One example is the state's effort to clean up radon. The current program focuses on homeowners, who are overwhelmingly white, and does not include those who live in rental properties, who are overwhelmingly of color.

"The (health equity) report illuminated that health is more than what happens in the doctor's office. It incorporates everything," Kris Rhodes, executive director of the American Indian Cancer Foundation, told Stateline. "It turned everything on its head in terms of what we think about health."

To learn more:
- read the Stateline article