This fourth annual Healthy People/Healthy Economy Report Card makes the case once again that health and wellness are essential to the future of the Commonwealth. This Report Card outlines more than a dozen complementary policies and practices to improve health and prevent disease, and it is critical that we adopt them.
This year, the Report Card intensifies its focus on health at both ends of the lifespan— young children and seniors. Equally important, it stresses the urgent need for action to improve health at the neighborhood and community level in order to enhance lives and meet the Commonwealth's new goals for controlling health care costs.
Massachusetts is now focused squarely on the difficult task of controlling its health care spending. With the enactment of Chapter 224 in 2012, the Commonwealth became the third U.S. state, following Maryland and Vermont, to assert control over all public and private health care spending. Under Chapter 224, the Commonwealth aims to keep the rate of increase in total health care spending equal to or less than the state's economic growth rate. This ambitious goal builds upon the state's achievement of the highest rate of health insurance in the country, with about 96 percent of residents covered. While people who live in Massachusetts are already among the healthiest in the United States, there are many areas for improvement, and making those improvements is key to controlling future costs.
Let's look at the record.
Massachusetts ranks high among the states on most health indicators. One well-regarded national report, America's Health Rankings, rates Massachusetts as the 4th-healthiest state in the country. Yet measures like these mask important and costly problems.
For example, even though the Commonwealth is among the states with the lowest levels of overweight, obesity and illnesses related to unhealthy weight, including Type 2 diabetes, the overall national trend has been consistently negative. In Massachusetts:
- The percentage of obese people has doubled since 1990, from approximately 10 percent to more than 20 percent.
- The number of cases of diabetes skyrocketed 80 percent between 1995 and 2010.
- The cost impact of diabetes, which is estimated to be more than $6 billion per year, will escalate unless the current trend is reversed.
- Equity issues remain, as African Americans are more likely to report that they are in fair or poor health compared to whites (about 18 percent vs. 12.5 percent), and Hispanics are much more likely to report poor health status (27 percent).
- Low-income residents are much more likely to characterize their health as fair or poor (29 percent of residents earning less than $25,000, compared to 4.7 percent of residents earning more than $75,000 per year).
- People who have completed high school or college are much more likely to report their health as good compared to those who have not finished school (Only 6 percent of college graduates characterized their health as fair or poor, compared to nearly 35 percent among those who did not finish high school).