Ohio remains in bottom third on U.S. health list

State ranks among worst for smokers, infant mortality and heart disease.Group aims to help Ohio improve health outcomes.

Ohioans spent about $500 more per person on health care during the past five years, but those expenditures yielded little to no progress in several key health measures, based on a new analysis of government and private health statistics by the Health Policy Institute of Ohio.

Ohio ranks near the bottom of list of states with the healthiest populations as a result of its high rates of infant mortality, diabetes, smoking and obesity, among other factors, according to HPIO. The nonprofit, nonpartisan health care research organization cited annual state rankings from the United Health Foundation, which ranked Ohio No. 37 for best health outcomes last year, up from No. 41 in 2007.

Over the same period, however, per capita spending on health care in the Buckeye State rose to $7,076, from $6,558, HPIO found. The average cost of a day of inpatient care at hospital alone rose about 17 percent to $2,138 last year from $1,833 in 2007.

Compared to other states, the increase in per capita health spending was moderate, ranking Ohio among the middle third of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Nevertheless, spending was up while the health of many Ohioans declined.

The obesity rate of the adult population rose to 30 percent from 28 percent over the past five years, while diabetes was up to 10 percent from 7 percent over the same period and the smoking rate increased from 22 percent to 25 percent.

“It’s not as though we are underinvesting overall in terms of health spending, but we’re likely not investing in the right kinds of things to get the kinds of outcomes we want,” said HPIO president Amy Rohling McGee.

Ohio ranked in the upper third of states in two categories: reducing the number of preventable deaths before age 75, and the percentage of the population with angina or coronary heart disease, which inched down to 5 percent from 6 percent over the past five years, HPIO reported.

But the state ranked in the lower third of states nationally in eight of the 13 metrics listed on HPIO’s online Health Outcomes and Costs Dashboard, which it uses to track Ohio’s progress in improving health outcomes while also controlling health care costs.

“We have a lot of work to do to improve health value in Ohio,’’ said Amy Bush Stevens, a researcher and policy analyst at HPIO.

To that end, HPIO is planning a meeting with health officials, providers and other stakeholders from across the state to seek ways to improve health outcomes while also controlling costs.

The group will charged with developing a standardized set of health measures that can be tracked over time, reflecting the impact of health spending and costs on the health outcomes for Ohioans.

“We all agree we need better value in our health system, the question is how would we recognize better value if we saw it,” Rohling McGee said. “We’re trying to quantify that.”

Jeff Cooper, assistant to the Montgomery County health commissioner, applauded HPIO’s efforts and said an epidemiologist from Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County would participate in the work group.

Cooper said the Health Outcomes and Costs Dashboard underscores the need for more spending on public health and prevention programs.

“We believe that on a community wide basis, you get a much better return on your dollar if you spend that money on trying to prevent chronic diseases rather than having to pay for treatment of chronic diseases through medical care or hospitalization,” Cooper said. “Public health as an agency is very supportive of the concept of trying to figure out ways to get better long-term quality health care for the community while reducing costs.”

Chris Jensen of Dayton is not waiting for the work group’s recommendations.

He began walking on a treadmill at the downtown YMCA several weeks ago to help control his high blood pressure and maybe “stop spending so much on medication.”

At 71, he’s hardly the youngest person in the gym. But it’s never too late to get started, he said.

“For me, the idea of going to the gym was always like, well, I don’t think so,” Jensen said. “But I lost seven pounds in five days. Now I can walk and talk with somebody at the same time without losing my breath.”

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