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Governor's Health Team Holds First Meeting; Seeks to Make Big Strides in State's Overall Health

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Location: Frankfort, KY

Kentucky's health is "in dire need of improvement," yet the state is poised to make remarkable progress in the coming years by building on its recent efforts to make all Kentuckians healthier.

This was the diagnosis from the state's public health commissioner to members of the "kyhealthnow" Oversight Team today during its first meeting.

Gov. Steve Beshear created "kyhealthnow" last month to reduce Kentucky's dismal health rankings and habits through seven specific goals and related strategies. The Oversight Team consists of cabinet secretaries and key state agency officials, and is chaired by Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson.

"I've asked this group to help implement multiple strategies that can be used over the next several years to improve the state's collective health, long after I have left office," Gov. Beshear said. "Kyhealthnow will build on our successful implementation of health care reform and will chart the path of our future successes."

kyhealthnow targets seven major health goals to be met within five years, by 2019:

Health insurance - Reduce Kentucky's rate of uninsured people to less than 5 percent
Smoking - Reduce Kentucky's smoking rate by 10 percent
Obesity - Reduce the rate of obesity among Kentuckians by 10 percent
Cancer - Reduce Kentucky cancer deaths by 10 percent
Cardiovascular Disease - Reduce cardiovascular deaths by 10 percent
Dental Decay - Reduce the percentage of children with untreated dental decay by 25 percent, and increase adult dental visits by 10 percent
Drug Addiction and Mental Health -- Reduce deaths from drug overdose by 25 percent, and reduce the average number of poor mental health days of Kentuckians by 25 percent.

Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Dr. Stephanie Mayfield, vice chair of the Oversight Team, presented the overview of the baseline data and metrics that will form the core of the evaluation of the state's progress toward meeting the seven kyhealthnow goals.

While Kentucky starts near the bottom of national rankings on nearly every kyhealthnow goal, "the state is poised to make strong progress, for example, by building on the preventive services benefit of kynect and improving the health of children through school-based initiatives," Dr. Mayfield said.

She summarized the state's overall health as "in dire need of improvement," but emphasized that kyhealthnow sets clear targets and measurable strategies that will meaningfully improve the health of Kentuckians over "the remainder of Gov. Beshear's term and beyond."

By setting specific, five-year goals, kyhealthnow holds state health agencies accountable for measurable success, and also challenges local governments, businesses, schools, nonprofits and individuals to take meaningful steps toward improving health in their communities.

Each of the seven goals is supported by multiple strategies, as many as a dozen in each area. The oversight team is engaging state agencies and private partners to highlight their work and resources to help make Kentucky a healthier state.

The team heard from three state agencies and one outside partner at its meeting.

Carrie Banahan, executive director of the Office of the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange, called on members to collaborate with her office to continue to insure Kentuckians through kynect.

Banahan said currently more than 321,000 Kentuckians are enrolled in new health care coverage through kynect and expects more by the March 31 open enrollment deadline for applying for coverage through a private insurance plan.

A preliminary analysis completed by her office found that approximately 75 percent of all enrollees report that they did not have insurance before signing up for health care coverage through kynect, she said.

While March 31 is the last day to enroll in a private health plan and receive subsidies until the fall open enrollment period, barring a qualifying event, Banahan told the group that enrollment for Medicaid and small businesses will continue after the deadline.

The group heard from two state agencies that share similar goals but operate in very different areas -- the Kentucky Department of Employee Insurance (DEI) and the Office of Adventure Tourism.

DEI Commissioner Joe Cowles told members that his department provides health insurance coverage for 266,000 members, including employees of state agencies, school boards and local government, as well as retirees under age 65 and their dependents.

Cowles highlighted the two Kentucky employees' health insurance plans that contain a wellness component designed to encourage members to lead healthier lifestyles.

"As part of our comprehensive wellness program, we offer employees two LivingWell plans," Cowles said. "These plans provide lower coinsurance, deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums. But more importantly, those who choose a LivingWell plan are required to complete an online health assessment. This helps them become more aware of their current well-being and understand their health risks. And, they get a personalized plan of action so they can get or stay healthy," he said.

The Diabetes Prevention Program, offered at no cost to members, also shows encouraging results, Cowles said. Current participants are improving their overall health and physical activity.

Office of Adventure Tourism Executive Director Elaine Wilson said her agency connects Kentuckians with the state's "outdoor assets."

"Four agencies within the Tourism Arts and Heritage Cabinet are directly involved in getting Kentuckians outside doing physical activities and having an experience of appreciation and exhilaration in nature," she said. The agencies are the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife, the Kentucky Department of Parks, the Office of Adventure Tourism and the Kentucky Sports Authority.

She said, for example, adventure tourism has two primary goals set forth by Gov. Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear -- "get our citizens back outdoors and create trail destinations where they and visitors can enjoy the rivers and lakes, and mountains and beauty of Kentucky."

The members of the oversight team heard from Dave Adkisson, president and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

Adkisson said the health and wellness of Kentuckians has become a greater concern to employers during the past decade as health insurance costs have increased and an increasing share of companies' tax dollars go to pay for health care.

"The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce now lists the health and wellness of Kentuckians as one of the business community's top three strategic priorities for the state," he said.

Adkisson addressed the importance and urgency of health issues to employers, the efforts to engage employers in wellness policies and worksite wellness programs, and the challenges Kentucky faces in addressing health problems that are now of epidemic proportions.

The Oversight Team will meet quarterly and continue to partner with state agencies and share knowledge with the private sector to help meet its seven goals, said Lt. Gov. Abramson.

The group will report its progress to the Governor every six months, he said.


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