Editorial: Legislature should consider full funding for public health

Keywords Editorials / Opinion

Hoosiers are an unhealthy lot. It’s been well-documented.

In study after study, Indiana consistently ranks among the nation’s least healthy states.

According to America’s Health Rankings, one of the most trusted surveys, Indiana weighs in at No. 41 in overall health. We’re the fifth-most-obese state, and we’re also in the top five for smoking and physical inactivity.

These poor rankings lead to poor health outcomes, costing more than $75 billion a year in medical costs and lost productivity due to heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, kidney failure and other chronic diseases, according to a 2018 study by the Milken Institute, a California-based economic think tank.

Clearly, it’s beyond time to do something to stop eating, smoking and lounging ourselves to death—and save a lot of money in the process.

The Governor’s Public Health Commission is trying to make some progress. After much study, the panel concluded that the state needs to spend an additional $242 million a year on public health to bring it in line with the national funding average, improve Hoosier health and lower medical costs.

Currently, the state ranks a dismal 48th in terms of the amount of money it devotes to public health. That fact alone should be enough to justify a significant increase. Besides, studies show it’s a smart investment. Every $1 spent on public health generates a return of $5.60 in lower health care costs, according to a study by the Trust for America’s Health.

But, as IBJ’s Peter Blanchard reports on the front page, the proposal’s price tag already has received a tepid response from key leaders in the Republican-controlled Indiana General Assembly.

With a $6.1 billion state surplus, Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray is suggesting a go-slowly approach before the Legislature even convenes in January to consider the commission’s proposal.

Legislative leaders appropriately note that a recession might be on the horizon and that many other worthy interests will be clamoring for a piece of the surplus.

But that doesn’t mean the funding level recommended by the governor’s health commission should be immediately dismissed out of hand. And it certainly doesn’t mean the state’s health problems can be blamed solely on individual Hoosiers’ failure to eat healthily and take good care of themselves.

Some Hoosiers can’t afford access to quality health care. Others simply need to be prodded to do the right thing and make good choices.

Government should play a role in that, especially if it means that such an investment will more than pay for itself in reduced health care costs. Luke Kenley, co-chair of the health commission, believes that it will, and he’s a former lawmaker who once held the state’s purse strings as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Our hope is that legislators will pay full attention to their former colleague and strongly weigh the financial benefits of a significant investment in public health before trying to limit it to some artificial level that won’t get the job done.•

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