For Immediate Release
November 5, 2007

KDHE Office of Communications
communications@kdheks.gov, 785-296-0461


National Report Confirms Need for Kansas Health Reform

A national study released today shows that the overall health of Kansans has declined over the past year. According to the 18th annual edition of America’s Health Rankings, Kansas is ranked 23rd in overall health nationally compared with last year’s 17th place ranking.

According to the United Health Foundation report, Kansas’ strengths included a low rate of infectious disease, few poor mental and physical health days and ready access to adequate prenatal care.

The report also showed that improving Kansas health has several challenges to overcome, including a high percentage of children in poverty, limited access to primary care and a low childhood immunization rate.

“This year’s study confirms that health reform proposals need favorable consideration in order to improve Kansas health,” said Roderick L. Bremby, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE). “Over the past year, we declined in the number of children being immunized, and saw a higher rate of uninsured Kansans as well as an increase in the number of adult smokers. Additionally, Kansas, like the rest of the nation, continues to experience a dangerous increase in the number of adults who are overweight or obese.”

The percentage of Kansans considered obese grew by 2 percent since last year’s report. One in four Kansans is now considered obese, up from 13 percent in 1990.

Those factors, combined with low per-capita public health spending, a low per-capita number of primary care physicians and a high rate of preventable hospitalizations led to Kansas having the dubious distinction of being the state with the greatest overall health score decline from last year, after having the fourth highest health improvement in the 2006 report.

Kansas continues to lag behind other states in seatbelt usage. In 2006, the Kansas seatbelt rate was 73 percent, well below the national average, ranking the state 43rd in the nation. The Driving Force, a safety task force commissioned by the Kansas Department of Transportation, the Kansas Highway Patrol and KDHE, was unsuccessful in their effort to convince legislators of the need for a primary seatbelt law during last year’s legislative session.

Kansas, compared to other states, continues to come up short on the amount of funds allocated for tobacco use prevention. In fiscal year 2006, Kansas collected $124 million in tobacco taxes and $48.6 million from the tobacco settlement payment, yet allocated less than $2.4 million in tobacco use prevention.

A recent report on health reform by the Kansas Health Policy Authority (KHPA) to the Kansas Legislature’s Joint Committee on Health Policy Oversight suggested that increased tobacco user fees, a statewide ban on smoking in public places and improved tobacco cessation services within Medicaid would help lower healthcare costs and make Kansas a healthier state. Kansas experiences $927 million in annual healthcare expenditures related to smoking.

The KHPA report also suggests several reforms to help increase healthy habits by Kansas children and youth due to increasing numbers of them becoming overweight and obese. The options include promoting healthy food choices in schools, increasing physical education and collecting information on the health and fitness of Kansas school children.

“These six health reform options, along with 15 others, are strategic recommendations that are now in the hands of Kansas’ policymakers,” said Marci Nielsen, Executive Director of KHPA. “Together, these reforms are expected to decrease the number of uninsured Kansans by 86,000 while greatly improving the overall health of our state.”

According to the United Health Foundation report, health improvement in the U.S. has been stagnant since 2000 after significant improvement throughout the 1990s. This year’s decline of 0.3 percent represents the first decline in the comprehensive health of the nation in the 18-year history of the report.

A copy of the full report can be located at www.unitedhealthfoundation.org/Grants/GrantsRankings.aspx.