Building a healthier tomorrow for Virginia, today

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Print this page by Christopher J. Mullins

In an annual checkup of our nation’s health, Virginia ranked 21st among the 50 states last year.  As a state, we maintain low rates of violent crime, children living in poverty and infectious disease, but we need to improve the disparity in health status by education level, prevalence of smoking and per capita public health funding.  Those findings come from United Health Foundation’s “America’s Health Rankings Annual Report,” which has been measuring national and state health for just over a quarter of a century.

As CEO of UnitedHealthcare of the Mid-Atlantic and a Virginia resident, I always look forward to the report because it offers an overview of where we stand in health as a nation and relative to our peer states.

The report provides a reflection of Virginia’s health that is at once sobering and encouraging.  Most notably during the past 26 years, cardiovascular deaths in Virginia have decreased by 42 percent, from 413.2 to 239.1 per 100,000 population. In the past 20 years, cancer deaths in our state have decreased 11 percent, and in the last 10 years, preventable hospitalizations have fallen 34 percent, from 74 to 49 per 1,000 Medicare beneficiaries.

While it’s wonderful to see these successes, we continue to experience new health challenges, with smoking in Virginia increasing 3 percent, from 19 to 19.5 percent of adults in the past two years. And sadly, in the past year alone, drug deaths in our state have increased 13 percent.

To expand on Virginia’s health successes, UnitedHealthcare works to capitalize on Virginia’s already low prevalence of infectious disease with advancing technology, including our Health4Me app. The free mobile app enables consumers to locate nearby health-care providers, so that as soon as they need care, they have access to it. This provides Virginia residents with access to important medical cost information literally at their fingertips so that they can more quickly and easily make important decisions to manage the health of their families. Health4Me improves transparency and makes it easier for Virginians to navigate the health care system, which keeps us all healthier.

To help close the gap in health status by education level, UnitedHealthcare offers a number of health and wellness initiatives to employers, including the Lose and Win program, an educational workplace weight management team challenge. Programs such as Lose and Win help employers motivate workers in Virginia to improve their health by exercising more frequently, maintaining a healthy weight or losing unwanted pounds. Offering these types of programs to employers across Virginia is a direct effort to providing alternative health education resources and addressing some of the state’s biggest health challenges.

Measuring and monitoring our nation’s health has never been more important, and the results of this year’s “America’s Health Rankings Annual Report” show how far we’ve come in the past 26 years — and how far we still have to go as a country.

This year’s data show that as a nation, Americans are smoking less and living less sedentary lifestyles; however, our country is facing complex health challenges that threaten Americans’ health and quality of life. Obesity and diabetes are at all-time highs, and rates of drug deaths — including illegal and prescription drug abuse — and children living in poverty are on the rise.

Understanding trends in health and wellness makes it clear where we need to focus our resources and attention. We can work to reduce the large disparity in health status by education level, improve the low per capita public health funding, and especially lower the high prevalence of smoking, where Virginia is ranked 31st in the country.

When it comes to the future of Virginia’s health, and America’s health, we are all in it together. Let’s commit now to making the changes necessary to ensure that we build a healthier tomorrow, today.

Christopher J. Mullins is CEO of UnitedHealthcare of the Mid-Atlantic.

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