MANKATO — While health disparities persist, a new report found Minnesota medical providers were improving on care metrics for low-income Minnesotans before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The finding stems from MN Community Measurement’s latest report, which compared treatment quality for patients on public Minnesota Health Care Programs to patients on other types of insurance. Providers in the Mankato area fared well in several treatment metrics, although not across the board.
Overall, however, care gaps for patients on public health insurance plans narrowed in 2019 — the most recent available data.
Minnesota Health Care Programs include Medical Assistance, MinnesotaCare and the Minnesota Family Planning Program. In 2019, a greater percentage of patients with those or similar plans received diabetes care, breast cancer screenings and colorectal screenings than the previous year. All other health measures in the report showed similarly narrowed gaps where comparisons were possible.
The progress was the result of sustained attention by providers, said MN Community Measurement President and CEO Julie Sonier. But next year’s findings could look much different once data during the pandemic is included.
“That (progress) can only serve us well in the context of the additional challenges of the pandemic,” she said. “We don’t yet know what we’ll see for results of metrics for care delivered in 2020. It would be very unsurprising to see across the board really different results from what we’ve seen.”
The role of telehealth will be an important trend to watch coming out of the pandemic, she noted.
If it reduces barriers to access for low-income patients, it could help in narrowing the gap further. But if too many patients don’t have access to technology in the first place, it could widen existing gaps, including well-documented disparities along racial lines.
The speed with which providers had to ramp up telehealth during the pandemic shows they’re capable of changing how they reach patients who need to be seen, Sonier said. Open Door Health Center in Mankato, which serves uninsured and underinsured patients, is a local example of an organization moving up its timeline for telehealth as an option for behavioral health visits last year.
“What we’ve learned about our ability to in general make changes in a much more rapid timeline than we thought possible, that I think serves us well,” Sonier said.
Among the local health care providers in the report, Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato and Mankato Clinic both had above average breast cancer screening rates for low-income patients. Mayo in Mankato came in at 77.5% and Mankato Clinic was at 74.2%, compared to the 69.1% state average.
For adolescent mental health and depression screenings, Mankato Clinic’s 93.8% rate was above the 87.9% state average. Mayo Clinic Health System’s 91% rate was also above average, although the report measured the health system as a whole in this metric rather than solely Mayo’s Mankato facilities.
Local providers also did well in adult depression follow-up at six months, which had an average of 48%. Mayo Clinic Health System’s Eastridge clinic had a 55% rate, Mankato Clinic had a 53.6% rate, and Mayo Clinic Health System’s Northridge clinic had a 51.4% rate.
MN Community Measurement prepared the report annually for the Minnesota Department of Human Services, or DHS. Knowing there will be great interest in seeing COVID-19’s impact on health care quality, Sonier said MN Community Measurement is preparing another report for this summer using pandemic data.
In a press release on the new report, DHS Commissioner Jodi Harpstead seemed to foreshadow what to expect once pandemic data gets included.
“Unfortunately, any positive gains in more equitable health care quality for Minnesotans on public health care programs in 2019 will be overshadowed by the disparate impacts of COVID-19 in 2020,” she said. “The Department of Human Services has devoted more attention, including adding financial incentives, to eliminate these indefensible disparities and systemic disadvantages for the people we serve, and we call upon all of our partners to join us in this work to end structural racism in health care.”