Thursday, March 27, 2014

Group overseeing effort to make state healthier hears of 'dire need,' tools for improvement

Kentucky's health is "in dire need of improvement," but the state has some tools to do that, including health-care reform and the insurance program for its own employees, the group of officials charged with improving the state's health heard at its first meeting Thursday.

Dr. Stephanie Mayfield, commissioner of the Department of Public Health, told the group overseeing "Kyhealthnow" that the state is near the bottom of national rankings on nearly every goal set for the effort, but "is poised to make strong progress through school-based programs and the fact that federal health reform has made preventive services free," a state press release said.

The goals are that by 2019, Kentucky will reduce its smoking, obesity and uninsured rates by 10 percent; cut its death rates from cancer and cardiovascular disease by 10 percent; reduce deaths from drug overdoses and the average number of poor mental health days by 25 percent; reduce the percentage of children with untreated dental decay by 25 percent, and increase adult dental visits by 10 percent.

The effort is overseen by state cabinet secretaries, other key state officials, Mayfield as co-chair and Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson as chair, by appointment from Gov. Steve Beshear. They are to meet quarterly.

The oversight group also heard from Department of Employee Insurance Commissioner Joe Cowles, whose agency provides health insurance coverage for 266,000 members, including employees of state agencies, school boards and local government, as well as retirees under age 65 and their dependents.

Cowles talked about the two insurance plans that contain a wellness component designed to encourage plan members to lead healthier lifestyles. "These plans provide lower coinsurance, deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums," Cowles said. "But more importantly, those who choose a LivingWell plan are required to complete an online health assessment. This helps them become more aware of their current well-being and understand their health risks. And, they get a personalized plan of action so they can get or stay healthy."

The department also offers a diabetes prevention program at no cost, and it has shown encouraging results, as participants are improving their physical activity and overall health, Cowles said. And it has anti-fraud measures that track the distance members drive to fill prescriptions, what drugs they are buying, how often, and so on.

The officials also heard from Dave Adkisson, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, which has made the health and wellness of Kentuckians one of its top three priorities because health-insurance costs have increased and an increasing share of companies’ tax dollars go to pay for health care. He said the state's health problems have reached 
“epidemic proportions.”

“We commend Governor Beshear for engaging his entire administration in a comprehensive effort to improve Kentucky’s health problems,” Adkisson told Kentucky Health News. “Health costs are a major issue among Kentucky businesses. But containing those costs can be like turning an aircraft carrier around in open water. We are glad state government as a huge employer has stepped up its efforts to encourage wellness among state employees and their family members who are covered by the state’s health insurance program. By being aggressive on wellness, prevention and disease management, tens of thousands of lives will be improved and health care costs paid by taxpayers will be contained.”

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