We used to be among the nation’s healthiest states. But we’ve been plummeting toward the bottom half of the pack.
The United Health Foundation, which has been ranking the overall health of states since 1990, recently named…Missouri among the seven states that have sunk the furthest on its list over the past 25 years. The rankings are based on a broad range of health, environmental and socioeconomic data.
Missouri used to be among the better half of states at 24th place; now it’s a dismal 36th. In much of the Midwest, we just haven’t been making a major public commitment to improving the health of our citizens, they say, and the results are catching up with us.
“Missouri has just been (reluctant) to take policy actions to improve health,” she said. “There’s a lack of engagement or belief that policies can work.”
Consider the data cited by America’s Health Rankings:
▪ Over the past 25 years, the nation’s cancer death rate has been slowly going down. Missouri’s has been creeping up.
▪ In 1990, the rate of heart disease deaths was lower in Missouri than for the nation as a whole. Now the rate is higher.
▪ Diabetes used to be slightly less prevalent in Missouri than in the rest of the nation. Now it’s just as common.
Out of the 27 measures used in the rankings, Missouri is among the bottom 20 states in 18 categories. In four categories —including smoking and immunizing adolescents — it’s among the 10 worst.
Some relatively simple policy changes, starting with raising the state’s tobacco tax, could benefit the health of Missourians.
At 17 cents per pack of cigarettes, Missouri has the lowest tobacco tax in the nation. The average state tax is $1.54 per pack. New York’s tax is the highest at $4.35 per pack.
“We’re just ignoring some of the evidence out there that higher taxes discourage smoking,” Patrick said.
Missouri also can do more to prevent drug deaths, she said. It’s the only state in the nation that doesn’t have a system for monitoring sales of prescription painkillers and other potentially dangerous drugs, she said.
“The illegal drug distribution industry knows, ‘Go to Missouri,’” Patrick said. “Nobody is monitoring there.”
The drug death rate has been increasing in Missouri during the past few years while it has remained fairly flat nationwide.
A factor that stands out for Patrick is funding for public health.
“Since the beginning of the rankings, Missouri has been near the bottom,” she said. “Many times, county health departments feel that public health functions are being pushed over to them by the state.”
According to the Trust for America’s Health, Missouri budgets less money per capita for public health than any other state. The national median for state spending is $27.49 per person. In Missouri, it’s $5.86.
Missouri’s tight budget for public health “didn’t happen on any one person’s watch,” Archer said. “But collectively, we just let it go downhill.”
In an emailed response, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said that in recent years it has supported efforts to expand Medicaid and implement a prescription drug monitoring program. The department is “continuously looking for potential initiatives and resources that could help improve health and wellness in our state … (and) is always working to ensure both state and federal resources are used as effectively as possible.”
But Missouri lawmakers have balked at expanding Medicaid or starting a prescription drug monitoring program.
(Excerpted from Kansas City Star 1/3/15)