On the road to fitness

Missourians are spending more on health care but performing poorly on nearly every health indicator.
Thursday, October 9, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:23 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Missouri is spending more money per person for health care than the national average. But the state is in the bottom of nearly every measure of health, according to a study released Wednesday.

“We’re not getting enough from our investment,” said James Kimmey, president and CEO of Missouri Foundation for Health, which commissioned the study. “Despite the spending, we’re not getting results one would expect.”

The study says that Missouri’s health care costs are rising above the national average, and Missouri will spend about $30 billion on health care this year, nearly $8 billion more than previously estimated. Meanwhile, the state does poorly on such health indicators as obesity and deaths due to heart disease.

Hugh Stallworth, director of the St. Louis Health Department, said the report tells him that public health efforts must be strengthened to prevent illnesses before they rise to the level of expensive hospitalization.

“Without access to prevention, we all pay a higher bill,” said Susan Talve, a St. Louis health activist.

Kimmey agreed that Missourians are spending more and getting less because not enough is spent on preventing costly health problems.

Columbians without coverage

More than 500,000 Missourians still live without any health insurance. Most of those have incomes below the national poverty level.

The study was conducted by Kenneth Thorpe, professor and chair of the department of health policy and management at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. Thorpe has done similar studies for other states.

Thorpe calculated health spending from such sources as Medicare, Medicaid, Missouri Department of Insurance, Workman’s Compensation, Ryan White funds for AIDS services and the state budget.

There was some positive news. The study found Missouri has fewer uninsured individuals compared with the national average — 12 percent for Missouri to 16.5 percent for the nation. That’s because the state has a higher level of employer-sponsored insurance coverage — 71 percent compared with 65 percent nationally.

In Columbia, MU is one of those large employers that offers insurance for a large number of people, said Tim Harlan, a Columbia attorney and former state representative.

Kimmey said a second study by Thorpe, due out in a few weeks, will calculate the cost to provide health care coverage to all Missourians. The preliminary results show a universal health care plan would cost less than what is currently being spent in Missouri.

Uninsured people often avoid early treatment they can’t afford and end up later in emergency rooms for more expensive treatment.

“People are overusing emergency rooms,” Harlan said. “When they access health care, it’s later than it should have been and more frequently than necessary,” he said.

— Missourian reporter Beth Androuais contributed to this report

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