Kentucky Press News Service
FRANKFORT – More Kentuckians have health insurance, are covered by smoke-free policy, can access physical activity resources, seek care for heart disease and cancer prevention, and get dental services since the launch of kyhealthnow last year, according to the program’s preliminary inaugural annual report previewed Thursday by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS).
The draft report, which was discussed during the kyhealthnow quarterly oversight team meeting, shows Kentucky is moving in the right direction in meeting the ambitious and wide-ranging goals laid out in the initiative, which was launched in February 2014 by Gov. Steve Beshear.
“To truly reverse or significantly reduce the major indicators of poor health in the state, we must continue to monitor our progress and programs through initiatives like kyhealthnow,” Beshear said in a statement. “This latest report is another important tool for us in our continuing efforts to create a healthier Kentucky.”
Kyhealthnow, chaired by Lt. Gov. Crit Luallen, includes individuals from various areas of state government to develop innovative strategies for addressing the state’s health woes, while challenging local governments, businesses, schools, nonprofits and individuals to take meaningful steps toward improving health in their communities.
“We’ve heard statistic after statistic illustrating how profoundly unhealthy our state is, but until recently we didn’t have a comprehensive plan to address it,” Luallen said. “Kyhealthnow not only identifies the major issues affecting the health of Kentuckians, it provides achievable strategies that will help Kentucky become a healthier state. This report illustrates that while we still have a long road ahead of us, we are making progress.”
The program is designed to build on Kentucky’s successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which paved the way for the state-based health benefit exchange – kynect – and expansion of the Medicaid program. Over the past 18 months, hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians have purchased a qualified health plan through kynect or enrolled in Medicaid, many of whom were previously uninsured and unable to afford health coverage, a state news release said.
Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Dr. Stephanie Mayfield, vice chair of the kyhealthnow oversight committee, noted the importance of reducing tobacco use in Kentucky, which, in 2013, had the second highest rate of adult smoking in the country at 26.5 percent of the population.
“It is encouraging that we have made considerable gains addressing tobacco smoking, which is the number one preventable cause of death in Kentucky and the nation,” Mayfield said. “Both kyhealthnow’s policies addressing tobacco use and expanded health care coverage have given us the tools we need to truly start reducing tobacco use in Kentucky – and the numerous health problems and diseases associated with it.”
Kyhealthnow targets seven major health goals to be met by 2019, focusing on increasing health insurance coverage; reducing the smoking rate and tobacco use; lowering the prevalence of obesity; lowering cancer deaths; reducing cardiovascular disease; treating and reducing dental decay; and reducing drug overdoses and mental health issues in Kentucky.
Among numerous other achievements, the kyhealthnow annual report shows much success in recent years, indicating progress toward meeting the goals of the program. Some of the findings include:
More access to health care coverage:
· The number of uninsured Kentuckians has been significantly reduced. According to a Gallup Poll released in February 2015, Kentucky’s uninsured rate dropped from 20.4 percent in 2013 to 9.8 percent in 2015 following the launch of kynect and Medicaid expansion. This was the second largest decline in the nation, moving Kentucky from the 10th highest number of uninsured to the 11th lowest.
Smoking and tobacco use:
· Numerous steps have been taken to address smoking and tobacco use, including an executive order signed by Gov. Beshear last year to expand the prohibition of all tobacco products and e-cigarettes in executive branch buildings. The action makes Kentucky one of only five states in the country to enact such a policy. Furthermore, there are now 24 smoke-free ordinances in communities across the state; 37 school districts are smoke-free and 51 individual college and university campuses have tobacco-free policies. In addition, Senate Bill 109, which was passed during the 2014 General Assembly, prohibits the sale of all types of e-cigarettes to minors.
Increasing Physical Activity/Obesity Prevention:
· Two “trail towns,” located in Morehead and Olive Hill, were recently certified by the Kentucky Office of Adventure Tourism and eight more are expected to be completed by the end of 2015. In addition, Dawkins Trail, a rail-to-trail project in eastern Kentucky, continues to grow. As of June 2013, 18 miles had been completed.
· Over the past eight years, 224 bicycle and pedestrian projects funded by federal grant dollars have been awarded, increasing the opportunity for cycling or walking in neighborhoods.
· Kentuckians now have increased access to the nationally recognized Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP). Available to state employees via the state health plan and now offered via 23 CDC recognized organizations around the state, DPP helps people who are at risk of developing diabetes reverse the onset of the disease.
· School districts are showing an increase in the amount of time devoted to physical activity. According to the Kentucky Department for Public Health (DPH) and the Department of Education, there is an increase in Comprehensive School Physical Activity Program (CSPAP) implementation at proficient or distinguished levels at all grade levels (515 of the 746 elementary schools, 186 of the 329 middle schools and 109 of the 228 high schools). Also, more schools report they are using BMI data to inform school wellness policy. DPH is also working to implement physical activity and obesity prevention curriculum in early child care centers. DPH received CDC grant funding to assist child care centers as they incorporate physical activity and healthy eating standards for preschool age children. The goal is to develop healthy habits in children before the age of 5 and prevent obesity.
Cancer Screening and Prevention:
· Last year, $1 million was awarded to the Kentucky Colon Cancer Screening Program to provide screenings for the uninsured population. In addition, DPH is working to increase rates for HPV vaccination, which would help prevent the spread of the HPV virus linked to cervical and other forms of cancer. Gov. Beshear and DPH have also have supported legislation that would prohibit the use of tanning beds by minors.
· The report shows that more adults have been screened and identified as having high blood pressure and are able to control their hypertension.
· More adults have had their cholesterol checked.
· Diabetes management has improved among adults. One study of Medicaid patients showed an overall decrease in those with poor diabetes control measures.
· Pediatric dental visits among Medicaid patients have significantly increased in the last year. In addition, in 2014, DPH announced grant awards to five health departments to implement public health dental hygiene programs. These programs broaden access to hygiene services, such as cleanings, screening and referrals, by providing staff and resources to supply mobile units to deliver care in schools. Five more grants will be awarded this year.
· The report also states there has been an increase in the number of children enrolled in Medicaid receiving two fluoride dental varnishes per year.
· In 2014, more than 13,000 individuals in the Medicaid program received substance use treatment services.
· In addition, a naloxone pilot program launched, which will fund the purchase of naloxone rescue kits for participating hospitals. The kits will be provided free of charge to every treated and discharged overdose victim.
“The findings of the first annual report of the kyhealthnow initiative demonstrate important progress in achieving our key goals, but there is much work still to be done,” said Lt. Gov. Luallen. “And while we should celebrate our successes, like the considerable gains Kentucky has made in addressing tobacco use, it’s important that we not become complacent in our efforts. We must remain focused on our goal of improving the health of Kentuckians and the long-term educational and economic benefits our improved health status will provide for generations to come.”