In 2007, the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce launched the New Agenda for Kentucky initiative, a project that challenged Kentuckians to contribute creative ideas for an agenda to move the state forward. From the more than 400 ideas submitted, a task force narrowed down the list to create the top 100, which ultimately became the “New Agenda for Kentucky Report.”
The New Agenda was broken down into five key areas – transformational goals that have now become the foundation of the chamber’s strategic plan:
• Improve the education attainment of Kentuckians
• Modernize government
• Promote wellness and healthy Kentuckians
• Prepare Kentucky to successfully compete in the global marketplace
• Expand Kentucky’s role as an energy leader
Each year, the chamber releases an annual progress report of the agenda to monitor the state’s progress toward the five goals. The recently released “New Agenda for Kentucky 2011 Progress Report,” available for download at kychamber.com, found that while Kentucky is making slow but steady progress in four of the five areas, one key area is continuously declining: promoting wellness and healthy Kentuckians.
According to the United Health Foundation’s annual state health rankings report, Kentucky has fallen from 39th among the states in 2008 to 44th in 2010. The report also lists Kentucky’s primary challenges:
• 25 percent of the population smokes
• 32.3 percent of the population is obese
• 227 deaths per 100,000 Kentuckians are due to cancer. It’s disheartening to see Kentucky falling behind in comparison to our neighboring states, but it’s worse to know that these numbers add up to staggering healthcare costs for employers, individuals and taxpayers.
Experts estimate 25 percent to 70 percent of healthcare costs could be avoided by improving health and healthcare consumerism. By incentivizing employees to live healthier lifestyles, businesses would not only reap the benefits of a healthier workforce but also direct savings to their bottom lines. At a time when healthcare costs are crippling the business community, that is a fact that simply cannot be ignored.
There has been some good news for health and wellness in Kentucky, however. The commonwealth received more than $35 million in federal grant money for health-related activities as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. That money is ready to be used to develop community health centers, for prevention and public health outreach, to address the needs of expanding Kentucky’s workforce of healthcare professionals and much more.
While the chamber believes these grants will allow the state to begin to address Kentucky’s public health battles, it will not be the solution to all of our problems. More work remains to be done in terms of improving the health status of our state, such as: expanding worksite wellness programs, increasing the number of healthcare professionals to improve access to care, and continuing efforts to reduce smoking, including the enactment of a statewide smoking law. These are only a few of the recommendations in the “New Agenda for Kentucky 2011 Progress Report,” but their implementation is imperative if we are truly dedicated to changing Kentucky’s perilous path.
Now is the time for Kentuckians to consider creative ways to address this critical issue – not only to reduce the financial burden associated with higher health care costs, but to create a healthier and more productive place for all of us to live and work.