FRANKFORT – For nearly 30 years now, the United Health Foundation has taken an in-depth look at our country’s collective health to see how each state stacks up. The most recent report, which came out earlier this month, has mixed news for us.
While our overall ranking was low, at 42nd, that’s up three spots from last year. Only two states, Florida and Utah, made a bigger year-over-year jump.
On the positive side, we are among the top 10 best states in several categories. We have one of the lowest uninsured rates; we do a great job of keeping infectious diseases at bay; we have the seventh-lowest violent crime rate; and over the past five years, we have reduced preventable hospitalizations among Medicare-eligible adults faster than just about every other state.
Other areas where we exceed or come close to meeting the national average include immunizations and the funding of public and mental health services.
Our worst rankings are primarily due to drug overdoses and high rates of cancer, diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. If there is a silver lining, it is that additional preventive measures can make a world of difference in each of these categories. Just bringing them to the national average would save thousands of lives and billions of dollars each year.
We are moving in that direction in some important ways. In February, the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky found that the state’s decision to expand Medicaid several years ago is continuing to make a difference when it comes to catching potential health problems early. In the third quarter of 2016, for example, more than three-fourths of the thousands of Medicaid patients who took part in five preventive screenings were in that expansion population.
Earlier this year, a separate report that takes a broader look each year at how the states compare with each other showed that Kentucky has fewer physicians on average but a higher rate of registered nurses. We’re just under the national average, meanwhile, when it comes to dentists.
That book of rankings also reports we have the highest smoking rate but one of the lowest rates of alcohol consumption.
Although not directly tied to our health, other rankings in that publication give us a better snapshot of the work we are doing to raise Kentucky’s overall quality of life. Only seven states, for example, have a higher high school graduation rate, and just one is doing a better job of graduating economically disadvantaged students. Our fourth graders are in the top 10 when it comes to reading proficiency, and our eighth graders rank just a little lower.
We have more public libraries than 35 other states on a per-person basis and have more internet-connected computers in them than all but five states.
Economically, no manufacturers’ employees in other states work harder – ours put in about four hours more per week than the national average – and we export more per person than all but three states. We also have a much bigger footprint when it comes to Department of Defense investments, thanks in large part to Fort Campbell and Fort Knox.
There is no doubt that there are strong links between our economy, education and health, and doing well – or poorly – in one has a direct impact on the other two. As such, if we can improve our collective well-being, then there is every reason to think the other categories important to us will rise as well. That’s a goal we have to continue working toward.
If you have any thoughts on this or other issues, please let me know. You can write to me at Room 432F, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort KY 40601; or you can email me at [email protected].
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I hope to hear from you soon.