June 13, 2014

A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand

FRANKFORT – In 2008, two non-profit organizations focused on improving our collective health began regularly asking Kentuckians their views about some of the day’s most pressing issues.

The Kentucky Health Issues Poll has since proven to be a good barometer of what seems to be working and where more attention may be needed.

Earlier this year, for example, this poll indicated that we are making steady progress in reducing prescription drug abuse. In 2011, the year before the General Assembly passed a far-reaching law targeting this problem, a third of those questioned said they knew of a family member or friend who had experienced problems tied to abuse of painkillers. Last year, that number was down to 27 percent, with the decrease even steeper in Eastern Kentucky, where the problem has been especially acute.

In addition to the negative impact prescription drug abuse has had on their lives, the public was also asked the same question about heroin and methamphetamine. The numbers for those were nine and 15 percent, respectively, but were much higher when just focusing on adults under the age of 30.

Some different poll results from earlier this year highlight other challenges we face. Consider that less than a fourth of adults in Kentucky say they eat the recommended number of fruits and vegetables each day, and only 40 percent call their diet excellent or very good.

Most Kentuckians say it is easy to buy healthy food in their community, but half cite cost as they reason they don’t buy more fruits and vegetables.

Roughly that same percentage say their neighborhood is a good place to walk, jog or ride a bike, and nearly everyone supports having our schools offer 30 minutes of physical activity each day.

Oral health is an another area where there is plenty of room for improvement. Two-thirds of those surveyed say they have visited a dentist in the past year, but that figure hides a wide disparity between lower and higher income families.

Among our Medicaid population, about half of our children see a dentist annually, but that drops to 18 percent for adults.

The General Assembly passed legislation this year that should improve access to dental care for children enrolled in Medicaid by increasing mobile services at our schools and Head Start programs. It is worth noting that the upcoming budget, which begins in July, includes additional funding to greatly expand the Head Start program in the budget’s second year.

One bright spot for Kentucky’s health is exercise. A study last summer by the University of Washington said Kentucky has far outpaced the nation when it comes to getting a greater number of people to undertake 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week.

Morgan County saw the biggest gain among all counties nationwide, and we had six of the top 10 counties for men and seven of the top 10 for women.

Without sugarcoating the serious problems we face in such areas as cancer, obesity and diabetes, this study proves that there is no reason to believe we have to accept many of our low state rankings. It may not be easy, and it won’t happen overnight, but recommitting ourselves to eating healthier, exercising more and catching medical problems before they spiral out of control can make a world of difference.

My hope is that we can eventually change the results of a Kentucky Health Issues Poll taken nearly two years ago. It found that a sizeable number of Kentuckians believes their parents’ generation was healthier than theirs, and that the health of their children’s generation would be even worse. That is a trend we cannot afford to let continue.

As always, if you have any thoughts on this or any other issue affecting the state, please let me know. You can write to me at Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort KY 40601; or you can email me at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov. To leave a message for me or for any legislator, call toll-free at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Paid for by Rick Rand for State Representative, Regina Rand, Treasurer