Why S.C. Needs A “Prevent Defense” August 22, 2007Posted by fitsnews in US Politics.
PALMETTO STATE PERFECT PLACE FOR 2008 HEALTH CARE DEBATE
FITSNews – August 22, 2007 – Let’s be honest, the good folks at the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease aren’t pitching a tent in South Carolina for the weather. Nor did they come here for the seafood, the golf or our state’s world-renowned beaches. Amazingly, they’re not even here because our state has the worst record in the nation when it comes to fighting chronic diseases like diabetes – although that certainly makes their pitch to Palmetto State voters considerably easier.
Like its fellow grassrooters over at the ONE campaign, the Partnership is making its presence felt in South Carolina for one reason and one reason only – our state’s “First in the South” presidential primaries. From advertisements on popular political websites like SCHotline and The Palmetto Scoop to the ubiquitous presence of dozens of “Fight Chronic Disease” T-Shirts at various campaign events, the Partnership is planting its flag in our state in a big way – holding press conferences, assembling e-mail lists, recruiting volunteers and engaging in other coalition-building efforts across party lines.
It’s a simple equation – drive the debate in South Carolina and you’ll force the twenty candidates running for president to speak to your issues on the national stage.
Of course, given the unmitigated disaster that is South Carolina’s current health care situation, we happen to believe the Partnership’s efforts serve another, more critical purpose. Not only do the candidates running for our nation’s highest office need to comprehend the root cost driver of a Medicare system that gobbled up $408 billion worth of taxpayer resources in 2006, but South Carolinians need to understand that their poor lifestyle choices, aversion to health insurance and lack of education about chronic diseases and preventative treatments is slowly turning our state into a third-world country.
As part of the Partnership’s efforts, former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona was in Columbia yesterday delivering a speech on the importance of preventative care at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health.
“We’ve successfully built a system that’s based on treating illness after it occurs rather than promoting health and wellness,” Dr. Carmona said. “We’re a treatment-focused society, when the real social and economic benefits come from being prevention focused.”
According to a poll released by the organization this week, an overwhelming majority of voters are in agreement. In fact, 8 out of 10 Americans say they believe the United States should prioritize health care dollars to “invest more in preventive measures to ensure that diseases are prevented or kept from becoming more serious.”
Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening in South Carolina.
Instead of getting ahead of the curve, our state’s disproportionately poor, uneducated, uninsured and overweight populace remains by and large oblivious to dangerous warning signs about common chronic diseases, forcing them to rely on costly emergency room care when disaster inevitably strikes. Exorbitant treatment costs for those without insurance are then passed on to the consumer in the form of higher premiums, which in turn inhibits the state’s economic competitiveness.
The depth of South Carolina’s health care crisis is indeed staggering. Our state is among the nation’s leaders in the prevalence of numerous chronic diseases including cancer, stroke, diabetes and HIV/AIDS. Orangeburg County, located in one of South Carolina’s many poor, predominantly rural areas, is known as the “Buckle of the Stroke Belt” because its residents have the highest stroke rate of any county in the entire nation. And speaking of third-world resemblance, South Carolina’s infant mortality rate is currently higher than that of war-ravaged Croatia, which is hardly surprising considering that 60% of all live births in the state are covered by Medicaid – far outpacing the national average.
In addition to these sobering statistics, South Carolina’s availability of quality health care is deteriorating almost as fast as our citizens’ health. According to the United Health Foundation, approximately 20% of our population is without health insurance, up from just 12% in 1990. Another 18-20% of the population is on Medicaid.
Even more disturbing is the ignorance and poor lifestyle choices consistently evidenced by our citizens. For example, clinical obesity – a driving factor in almost all of the chronic diseases afflicting our state – is rampant in our state. Studies now show that 29% of South Carolinians now fall into this high-risk weight category compared to just 25% two years ago.
This is the bleak picture the Partnership is intent on painting in advance of the 2008 primaries, as the nation’s political spotlight is squarely focused on the Palmetto State in the months, weeks and days leading up to the January presidential primary vote.
Several in-state groups are also actively involved in meeting our state’s health care challenge, including the Covering Carolina Collaborative, which is the brainchild of S.C. Blue Cross Blue Shield CEO Ed Sellers and former Palmetto Health CEO Kester Freeman. Two of the most influential health care policy experts in the state, Sellers and Freeman are working with former DHHS Director Robbie Kerr with the goal of making sure all South Carolinians are receiving adequate health care insurance by the year 2010.
Not surprisingly, a primary focus of the Collaborative is improving South Carolina’s preventative care efforts.
S.C. First Lady Jenny Sanford has also been front-and-center on the preventative health care front through her Healthy South Carolina initiative, which is focused on lifestyle changes and wellness issues as a way of reducing the risk of chronic disease.
We’ll be writing more about the health care issue in the days and weeks to come (looking in detail at solutions like expanding Medicaid eligibility and offering tax incentives to businesses that provide insurance), but given the epidemic currently confronting our state, the work of these groups in raising public awareness and influencing individual behavior with respect to healthier living is clearly much bigger than any political election.
Click here to learn more about the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease.