The health of Kansas City residents is linked to the health of the whole state of Missouri — a state that has demonstrated a fondness to be an outlier on a number of health issues. Although many health issues have been stymied at the state level, local municipalities should be commended for continuing to move forward on sensible answers to improve the health of our region.
In The Star’s Nov. 30 article “Kansas City’s killers: guns, pills and cigarettes,” Kansas City was called out for having higher rates of death from opiates, firearms and lung cancer than other big cities.
Kansas City was the only city in Missouri to be included in the research and, when it comes to health issues, the state has a well-established reputation for lagging on a number of fronts. Missouri is the only state that doesn’t have a prescription drug monitoring program, a key tool that allows doctors and dentists to be smart prescribers of pain medication. The state’s cigarette tax rate of 17 cents per pack is the lowest in the nation, well below the national average of $1.69 per pack. Missouri ranks 50th out of 51 (including Washington, D.C.) in state public health spending at $5.90 per capita, relative to a national median of $33.50.
Against this backdrop, we can’t be surprised that Kansas City might have poor health outcomes. Nonetheless, we are encouraged by the extent to which local municipalities have found creative solutions to move public health forward.
Recently, Kansas City 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 provide this tool for safer prescribing. The lack of a monitoring program not only feeds the cycle of addiction, it also impacts the quality of care that a doctor or dentist can provide. Doctors often do not have a full picture of the medications that a patient has received, and thus some patients will be denied pain medication when they should be treated and other patients will be overprescribed, potentially leading to medication interactions.
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The Kansas City region has also been a leader in passing Tobacco 21 policies. To date, 19 cities and two counties in the area have passed Tobacco 21 laws. There are now 1.4 million people in the Kansas City area who live in cities with Tobacco 21 policies, well over 75 percent of the region’s population. This work has been accomplished in partnership with health-minded elected officials and a community-driven effort called Healthy KC, a partnership of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City, the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and more than 165 organizations that have endorsed Tobacco 21 policies as a tool for preventing youth tobacco use.
These are just two examples of the many ways local governments are leading the way in advancing public health. Local governments can be more flexible and responsive than the state in dealing with emerging problems by seeking innovative and local solutions that make sense for their residents.
Bridget McCandless, M.D., is the president and CEO of the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, which focuses on leadership, advocacy and provision of resources to eliminate barriers and promote quality health for uninsured and underserved residents in the Kansas City area. HCF has granted more than $220 million in 11 years in six counties to address opportunities to build healthy communities and provide access to quality health, mental health and oral health services. She currently serves on the Missouri Medicaid Oversight Committee, the Healthy KC Commission, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce board and the Urban Neighborhood Initiative.