A national study released Wednesday shows that the overall health of Kansans has improved slightly over the past year. According to the 19th annual edition of America’s Health Rankings, Kansas is ranked 22nd in overall health nationally compared with last year’s 23rd place ranking. Kansas was ranked 17th in 2006.
According to the United Health Foundation report, Kansas’ strengths included few poor mental and physical health days, high immunization coverage and low prevalence of smoking.
The report also shows that improving Kansas health has several challenges to overcome, including low per capita public health funding, limited access to primary care and a moderate rate of preventable hospitalizations.
The report points out the issue of health disparities and that in Kansas low birth weight babies are more common among non-Hispanic blacks than non-Hispanic whites. Access to healthcare also varies significantly by race and ethnicity with 44 percent of Hispanics not having health insurance compared to 12.4 percent of non-Hispanic whites.
“While the state has made some small improvements, this year’s study still confirms that health reform is the key to improving the health of Kansans,” said Roderick L. Bremby, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE). “Over the past year the prevalence of obesity has seen a significant increase and the growing number of uninsured Kansans is troubling. Equally distressing are the widening health disparities among racial and ethnic groups.”
Marcia Nielsen, executive director of the Kansas Health Policy Authority (KHPA), noted that Kansas is one of only 10 states with a rising uninsured rate. KHPA will ask the Kansas legislature to address that issue in 2009 by extending Medicaid coverage to all parents and caregivers below 100 percent of the federal poverty level. That expansion would be funded by a 75 cent per-pack increase in the state tobacco tax. Coupled with that is a proposal for a statewide clean indoor air law that would ban smoking in public establishments throughout the state and a proposal to make health coverage more affordable for small businesses and young adults.
“This package really works on a number of levels to improve the overall health of Kansans,” Nielsen said. “We would expect to see a significant reduction in the prevalence of smoking in Kansas as well as savings in the cost of treating smoking-related illnesses. At the same time, we can insure more than 30,000 additional adults in Kansas by using tobacco tax revenues to expand Medicaid.”
Nielsen noted that Kansans currently spend about $930 million a year for treating smoking-related illnesses. That includes about $196 million a year in Medicaid costs alone.
Kansas currently has one of the most restrictive Medicaid programs in the country when it comes to insuring adults. Parents with minor children must have incomes below about 30 percent of the federal poverty level. Childless adults are not eligible for Medicaid regardless of poverty status unless they are elderly or disabled.
According to the United Health Foundation report, over the past 19 years the U.S. has seen an 18.4 percent improvement in overall health. During the 1990s, health improved at an average annual rate of 1.5 percent per year however, health improvement in the U.S. has been stagnating over the last four years.
A copy of the full report can be located at www.unitedhealthfoundation.org/ahr.html.