Health Trends

Another viewpoint: State should boost public health spending 65%

Indiana ranked five spots better than the year before on business channel CNBC’s annual list of America’s Top States for Business, released Aug. 1. The Hoosier State performed well in three categories in 2022 – infrastructure, cost of doing business, and cost of living – propelling it from 19th in 2021 to 14th this year.

The state’s business rankings are a source of pride for legislators and Gov. Eric Holcomb, who can brag of nine straight balanced budgets, Indiana’s Triple A credit rating and the billions of dollars in reserve funds.

But when it comes to public health, Indiana performs poorly compared to the rest of the nation. Atlanta-based Sharecare, a digital health care company, partnered with Boston University School of Public Health and ranked Indiana 41st on its list of the healthiest states in 2021.

In August of last year, Holcomb established the Governor’s Public Health Commission and charged its 15 members with examining the strengths and weaknesses in Indiana’s public health system and making recommendations for improvements.

Last week, the commission submitted a 107-page report to Holcomb. It advocated starting a health care workforce plan to mitigate shortages, increasing access to state data for local health departments and setting up a strategic equipment stockpile, as well as stepping up public health spending by about 65%.

Indiana ranks 48th in public health funding, spending about $55 per Hoosier or $36 less than the national average of $91 per person. The commission wants to close the funding gap by $36 per resident at a cost of about $243 million.

Programs that combat problems associated with infant mortality, smoking, obesity and children’s health top the list of services provided inconsistently because of funding deficits at the county level.

Luke Kenley, co-chair of the commission and former chairman of the state Senate Appropriations Committee, emphasized that transparency played an important role in the commission’s process. Members hosted seven listening sessions across the state, and read every comment it received online or at its public meetings. The former senator even sent reports to lawmakers after each listening session.

Holcomb should go all-in on the Public Health Commission’s funding and other recommendations.

County health departments have one of the 10 lowest expenditures per capita in the nation, and their workforces are ill equipped to deal with the communicable disease issues they currently face, such as COVID-19, monkeypox and sexually transmitted diseases.

Increased and sustainable funding, more staffing and better trained public health officials can lead to better public health outcomes, and the cost of preventive care is far less than addressing the aftereffects of disease.

Research suggests such improvements can buttress economic development — and maybe drive Indiana even higher on future lists of America’s Top States for Business.

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