Sometimes research and news stories that appear to have little connection can, upon closer examination, be closely related.
Consider, for example, the findings that emerged from a study published this fall by researchers from New York University. “Drawing on a panel of 264 cities spanning more than 20 years, we estimate that every 10 additional organizations focusing on crime and community life in a city with 100,000 residents leads to a 9 percent reduction in the murder rate, a 6 percent reduction in the violent crime rate, and a 4 percent reduction in the property crime rate,” according to their report.
According to a MinnPost article, Minneapolis is among the best examples of the impact non-profit organizations have on reducing violence. “Minneapolis in 1990 had 29 community nonprofits per 100,000 population in 1990. In 2013, that count was up to 94 per 100,000 people. That increase in nonprofits coincides with a crime drop: In Minneapolis, the murder rate peaked in 1995 at 26 per 100,000 residents, then began a gradual decline. In 2013, the murder rate was nine per 100,000 residents,” said MinnPost.
The findings are significant. Not only are many neighborhoods becoming safer, a lower rate of violence has a direct impact on health costs. A Newsweek report said, “Gunshot wounds cost Americans $2.8 billion in hospital bills alone per year, according to a new analysis published in the journal Health Affairs…”
An October report on CBS MoneyWatch brought the issue closer to Minnesota: “(T)axpayers are picking up the bill by paying for the medical care of victims on Medicaid and by forking out more in taxes to fund law enforcement, the criminal justice system, and jails and prisons, said Mike McLively, senior staff attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
“One of the first states they studied, Minnesota, incurs direct and indirect costs of $2.2 billion each year due to the more than 900 gun deaths in the state each year, McLively said.”
Another set of research findings worth noting comes from the Minnesota Department of Health which recently reported that while per-person health costs for treating those with chronic diseases are falling, overall costs are going up. More people are being diagnosed with chronic illnesses (for example, hypertension and diabetes). As the population with the most chronic conditions, those 60 and older, increases, spending for these Minnesotans will increase by 65 percent by 2023, from $9.8 billion to $16.1 billion.
Taken together, these and similar studies make three points worth noting:
First, not all public policy starts in St. Paul or Washington. Innovation in how public services are delivered and in the services themselves – including health, education, housing and many other areas – increasingly are starting with individuals, non-profit organizations and the business community. In health improvement, for example, hospitals and Minnesota’s insurers, among others, are among those making important changes that will improve the lives of Minnesotans while managing the cost of health care.
Second, more emphasis needs to be placed on the big drivers of health costs, starting with chronic conditions. A study published by MDH in 2016 put the challenge in stark terms: “Annual per-person medical spending for Minnesotans with one or more chronic condition was, on average, 8 times higher than that of residents with no chronic condition.” The number of Minnesotans turning 65 this decade will be greater than the past four years combined, according to the Citizens League. As the MDH study points out, this population is far more likely to have chronic conditions. How we can help Minnesotans age and maintain good health will be one of the most important factors in the ability to hold down health costs.
Third, policy makers too often equate the cost of health with how much public programs are costing or the rise in insurance premiums. In fact, the cost of health is “very heavily influenced by factors outside of the care delivery system, including economic and social opportunities, biological and genetic factors, environmental and social stressors, behavioral choices, and the physical environment in which individuals live,” according to the MDH report. “Because of this, efforts to impact health and prevent chronic disease will need to look beyond the care delivery system, and focus on efforts that can give all Minnesotans the opportunity to be healthy.”