New Annual Report Highlights Economic, Educational, and Racial Disparities

The economic, employment, and racial disparities detailed in County Health Rankings and Roadmaps’ 2022 Annual Report have a ripple effect across all social determinants of health. Access to all basic human needs is at issue and must be addressed.

County Health Rankings and Roadmaps (CHR&R) released their 2022 annual report this week, and what a read it is! Those in the health equity space unfamiliar with this resource need to get familiar quickly! The site provides current data and outcomes on societal disparities for every county in the United States. CHR & R was created by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The site is among my favorite “go to” sites for health disparities data, along with CMS’s Mapping US Medicare Disparities and the Health Equity Tracker courtesy of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute and Morehouse School of Medicine). But, back to those CHR & R the interesting results!

What the Data Reveals

Much has been written during the pandemic about economic shifts and their impact on the population. The results of the CHR & R report are glaring, and have strong potential to impact wholistic health equity across physical, behavioral, and psychosocial health:

  • Many US residents do not earn a living wage: $35.80 an hour for households with one adult and two children:
    • In nearly all US counties, the typical wage is less than the living wage for the area. Among these counties, a more than 73% increase in wages is necessary to meet the living wage; some counties require a 229% increase.
  • The gender disparity gap is only eclipsed by that for racial disparities:
    • Women earn 81 cents on the dollar relative to White Men
    • Women of all races and ethnicities must work more time to earn the $61,807 average annual salary of a White man.
      • Asian Women: 34 days more (approximately 1 month)
      • White Women: 103 days more (> 3.5 months)
      • Black Women: 223 days more (> 7 months)
      • American Indian/Alaskan Native: 266 days (>8.5 months)
      • Hispanic Women: 299 days more (approximately 10 months)
    • The largest pay gaps exist in the South and Western Plains States, often related to prevailing systemic racism
  • Childcare costs negate the ability of many parents to work, and is considered unaffordable when it exceeds 7% of the household’s income:
    • No counties have the childcare cost for two children at or below the 7% benchmark
    • On average, a family with two children spends 25% of its household income on childcare 
    • Childcare cost burden is highest in urban metro regions and rural counties: 27% and 25% respectively
    • For a person earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25-an-hour, the average childcare costs for two children is >90% of their annual income.
  • Vast educational disparities appear across rural, suburban and urban schools:
    • 50% of all counties in the US have a public school funding deficit, needing to spend >$3,000 more per student, annually 
    • 70% of counties with deficits of > -$4,500 per student, annually, are rural
    • Counties with higher proportions of Black, Hispanic, and American Indian & Alaska Native populations have funding deficits higher than most US counties; deficits are especially high in certain areas, such as the Southern Black Belt region (systemic racism hits again).
    • Large school funding deficits (-$4,500 per student, annually) correlate with students performing below their grade level for reading and math.

Ripples Effects and Recommendations

The economic, employment, and racial disparities detailed in the report have a ripple effect across all social determinants of health. Access to all basic human needs is at issue, and must be addressed. The report includes a series of data maps, resources, and successful programming to mitigate the issues. Recommendations encompass, but are not limited to:

A table with additional measures and data sources are appears at end of the report, which reaffirms the product’s value to the industry. The report is accessible from the embedded URL above, or through the County Ranking and Roadmaps site, www.countyhealthrankings.org

Feel free to add your comments about this blog post below, or other valuable resources. 

What Good Is Health Plan Cost-Sharing When Persons Can’t Afford to Access Care?

Increasing numbers of persons challenged by cost-sharing options only adds to the growing tally of persons struggling with social determinants of health and mental health; this counters efforts to attain wholistic health equity.

Outcomes
Researchers analyzed data from the 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances with telling results:
• High percentages of non-elderly households lack sufficient assets to meet typical plan cost-sharing amounts.
-45% of single-person non-elderly households unable to pay average cost-sharing amounts of $2,000 annually; low income households were in the same boat
-63% could not pay over the higher plan amounts of $6,000.
• Available liquid assets for single-person non-elderly households with incomes <150% of the federal poverty level (FPL) were limited; available assets averaged $577 vs $1,753 for those between 150% and 400% of FPL, and $13,243 for those above 400% of FPL.
• Median available liquid assets among multi-person households were $698 for those below 150% of poverty compared to $2,996 for households between 150% and 400% of poverty, and $23,439 for households with incomes of 400% of poverty or more.
• 84% of multi-person households with incomes <150% of the FPL lack $4,000 in liquid assets
• 50% of households could not afford a basic employer insurance plan deductible ($2000)
• 2:3 households lacked funds to covered a high-end deductible ( $6000)

Deductibles, co-pays, co-insurance are common means of health plan cost-sharing. However, what happens when healthcare consumers are unable to pay them? A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed the sorry truth: health plan enrollees are too often unable to access the care they need, or forced into medical debt and bankruptcy to do so. In a time when strong efforts are in play to bridge healthcare disparities and ease access to care, that reality remains an elusive butterfly for too many individuals.

Most households lack sufficient liquid assets to meet an out-of-pocket maximum. Some might recall that the Affordable Care Act limited out-of-pocket maximums for most private health insurance plans: $8700 for single coverage, $17,400 for family coverage. This is appalling considering the Affordable Care Act set out-of-pocket minimums, yet the average out-of-pocket maximum for single coverage in 2021 was $4272.

Rising Medical Debt
Amid the pandemic, high numbers of persons faced emergency medical bills from care, whether related to COVID-related costs, or deferred health and behavioral issues. Roughly 62% of households with incomes between 150% and 400% of the poverty level were unable to afford care or access the approximately $3000 needed to cover urgent care costs.

Recent reports show dismal results for persons dealing with psychosocial challenges, as well as rising medical debt:
• >50% of Americans experience medical debt
• >57% owed over $1000
• 40% had problems paying medical bills or affording premiums
• 65% who earned <$40,000 and 51% earning $40,000 to $75,000 could not afford premiums despite having employer-sponsored coverage.

• >51% of persons with employer-sponsored plans reported someone in their household delayed or skipped care, or filling a prescription due to the associated expense
• 26% of adults with an employer-sponsored plan had to cut spending on food, clothes, or other household items to pay their health-related expenses.
• 20% took on an additional credit card debt to pay their expenses

The rising numbers of persons challenged by cost-sharing options must be resolved. This reality only adds to the growing tally of persons struggling with social determinants of health and mental health, countering efforts to attain health equity. More must be done to enhance access to care for every person across the wholistic health landscape of physical, behavioral, and psychosocial health.

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