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Chronic diseases cost Minnesotans big

ST. PAUL — Health care for Minnesotans with chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, kidney failure and heart disease costs eight times more than for people without them.

“This report shows the significant financial toll chronic disease is taking on individuals, our communities and our state,” Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger said Tuesday after release of a first-of-its-kind report. “We cannot afford to treat our way out of this crisis. We must more strongly focus on preventing chronic disease or delaying its progression by investing in healthier communities, public health and primary care.”

The average health-care cost for a Minnesotan at with least one chronic disease was $12,800 a year in the just-released study of 2012 costs, for a statewide total of nearly $23 billion. Those without a chronic disease, and their insurers, spent $1,600 a year on average.

More than a third of insured Minnesotans have at least one chronic disease, the Health Department study showed.

The cost is not the same across the state, but Health Department officials said they do not have enough data to know why.

The biggest differences came in treating kidney failure. It cost $24,690 in the southeast’s Houston County, but $50,760 in west-central Minnesota’s Stevens County.

Ehlinger said that the department would like to know why there are differences among counties. Health Department Economist Stefan Gildemeister said it is important to get that data, as well as how race and ethnic background affect health and costs.

Even if data from the first survey does not go deep enough to study demographic and geographic differences, officials say it is valuable.

“Seeing these costs made me reflect on the huge incentive we all have to live healthier lives,” Isanti County Commissioner Susan Morris said. “It also made me optimistic that our county can use this data to focus our attention on our greatest health needs, and hopefully in the future, we can drill down to figure out what’s driving cost differences and help our residents be better consumers of health care.”

One way to look at the cost is that 83 percent of all medical care spending in the state was for patients with a chronic condition. Ehlinger said that was the surprise of the survey, calling it “a stark observation that for Minnesota we didn’t expect to be the case.”

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