First, the good news about the health of Minnesota's poorest citizens: On five of eight measures, their medical care improved over the past five to eight years, a new report says.
Patients and their doctors made significant progress in controlling high blood pressure, getting Pap smears and mammograms, vaccinating kids and testing children with sore throats to head off communicable diseases.
The patients are all on Medicaid, MinnesotaCare or General Assistance Medical Care, managed care plans paid for or subsidized by the state.
Still, those patients lagged the average for all Minnesotans in managed care, according to the 2011 Health Care Disparities Report, compiled by Minnesota Community Measurement. The annual accounting is required by the Legislature.
"We're glad to see the continued improvement on important health care measures," Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said Thursday. "But we need to do more to close the gap."
For instance, while 70 percent of women on the state programs received Pap smears to detect cervical cancer -- up nearly one-third from eight years ago -- that remains below the statewide average of 77 percent. The largest gaps were on colorectal cancer screening, breast cancer screenings and optimal vascular care and diabetes care.
People in state care programs often have "significant personal challenges" such as homelessness, mental illness or addiction, the report said, and are at greater risk of health problems because of lower education levels and low income.
Jesson said the state is launching several new ways to deliver health care to people on state programs, including new "health care homes" and several pilot projects. They are designed to better track and involve patients with their care and may help close the gaps in health measurements, she said.