Hoosiers need better public health care


We have the coronavirus to thank for 10 months of uncertainty and loneliness, economic hardship and emotional depression, illness and death.

While it might seem little consolation now after the challenges of 2020, we also might owe something positive to COVID-19: a jolt of reality about the state of public health care in the United States.

In Indiana, it’s not a pretty picture. More than half a million Hoosiers, almost 20% of those tested, have been diagnosed with the disease. Nearly 8,000 have died; at least 50 a day have perished since Nov. 16. With 121 deaths per 100,000 population, Indiana ranks among the 15 states with the highest rates.

PERHAPS THE CLEAREST picture of the situation in Indiana was painted Wednesday when 22 additional counties where placed in the “red,” or highest-risk category, for the coronavirus. Half of Indiana’s counties are now in the red.

These statistics suggest that Indiana’s response to the public health crisis has been mediocre at best. It’s not surprising, given that our state ranks below average across the board in health behaviors, including exercise, diet and smoking. We also rank low in health outcomes for cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

It all adds up to Hoosiers having a relatively poor quality of life and a relatively low life expectancy. According to statistics for 2019 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, premature death caused by health behaviors and outcomes runs well above the national average in Indiana.

While Hoosiers should be accountable for their own actions and government certainly doesn’t bear all of the responsibility, the state’s failure to provide proper funding for public health lies at the core of the problem.

AN ANNUAL STUDY by the University of Minnesota shows Indiana tied for fifth lowest in per capita state public health funding at $15. Two neighboring states, Illinois ($30 per person) and Kentucky ($35) spend at least twice as much per capita.

To get into the top 25 states in public health care spending, Indiana would have to rise to Kentucky’s level. It would take an additional $134.6 million in public health investment.

That’s a lot of money. But if it’s targeted effectively to not only prepare for crises like the pandemic but to address specific concerns, such as infant mortality and maternal health, it would be well worth the funding and could actually save costs by reducing hospitalization rates.

At the very least, Indiana should increase public health spending to keep pace with inflation. In 2008, the state’s per capita health care spending stood at $15, the same as 2019. The problem is, it would take $18.13 today to have the same level of buying power.

Hoosiers deserve better from state government. Health care is a great place to start.

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