Creating a culture of health – Health Forward Foundation


As 2016 winds down, we begin our annual blog series where Health Forward associates review highlights from our work this past year. In our final post, Bridget McCandless looks ahead to 2017 and how we can continue to build a culture of health. Join us as we look back on 2016. 

A few weeks ago the Kansas City Star published an article: “Kansas City’s killers: guns, pills, and cigarettes” that called the region out for having higher deaths from opiates, firearms and lung cancer as compared to other metropolitan regions.

It’s not surprising, given Missouri has not been in the front on issues of public health, including the only state that doesn’t have a prescription drug monitoring program,the lowest cigarette tax rate and ranks 50 out of 51 in state public health spending.

However, as I collect my thoughts on the past year for this blog and reflect on the progress we’ve made to create a culture of health, I’m encouraged by how our local municipalities have found creative solutions to move public health forward, especially in the areas so dubiously noted in this study.

Just a few weeks ago, Kansas City, Missouri, joined Jackson County and Independence in enacting a regional prescription drug monitoring program. Rather than wait for the state, regional policymakers found a creative and local solution to reduce opioid deaths.

The Kansas City region has also been a leader in passing Tobacco 21 policies in 2016. To date, 21 cities and two counties in the area have passed Tobacco 21 laws. 

These are just two examples of how local governments led the way in advancing public health in 2016.

There were also regional advancements as a result of the November election. We were encouraged that Kansans elected candidates who support expanding coverage to Kansans and making Kansas a healthier place to live.

Voters also continued to favor local tax measures that support important regional issues, such as substance abuse prevention, anti-violence programming, and services for at-risk youth.

In Missouri, voters rejected both Amendment 3 and Proposition A, which were funded with $19 million from the tobacco industry. Both ballot measures were structured to minimize their impact on tobacco use.  

Looking ahead

While it is too early to know the impact of the election on health reform at the national level and on our prospects to expand Medicaid regionally, it is clear that there will be renewed and serious discussion about repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

From its inception, the ACA attempted to strike a delicate balance between affordability for consumers and sustainability for insurers, all against a backdrop of varying health risks. Some components of the ACA have worked tremendously well, resulting in increased health care access for millions of Americans, while other components have been fraught with difficulty like cost-sharing.

As we approach a time where there will be increased national conversation on the future of the ACA, it will be important to focus on the goal of increased and affordable access and ensure that consumers are part of that conversation.

Regionally, we will continue to support policies and fund programs that increase access and quality of mental, oral and health care for vulnerable populations.

Everyone should have an opportunity to make choices that allow for a long, healthy life, regardless of income, education or ethnic background. Our partners have been working diligently to provide their clients with affordable access to healthy food, health insurance and safe places to live, learn, work and play.

The discourse during the past election year raised some strong emotions. Despite that tension, we watched area residents come together to celebrate their rich histories and diverse cultures. We saw neighborhoods take blighted homes and grow community gardens. We saw agencies help the newly-insured navigate our health care system. We saw mobile units deliver healthy food and needed health and oral health care services to those who couldn’t access it elsewhere.

Before we ring in the new year, we pause to celebrate this work and the diversity of our communities. We will renew our focus on continuing our mission of providing leadership, advocacy, and eliminating barriers to health for the uninsured and underserved. 

We look forward to another year of working with community members and policymakers to improve the health of the Kansas City region.

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