Editor’s note: This Viewpoint was submitted on behalf of the Association of Indiana Counties, the Indiana Association of County Commissioners, the Indiana County Councils Association and Accelerate Indiana Municipalities.

Indiana’s proposal to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in public health could improve Hoosiers’ health and lower health care costs, making our state more attractive to businesses seeking workers and places to locate.

This proposal, which would bring funding for public health in Indiana from its current level of $55 per capita to close to the 2019 national average of $91, was developed based on transparent, thoughtful consideration by the Governor’s Public Health Commission. The 16-member commission included state officials, local elected officials, former state and national elected officials and private sector representatives, who spent months examining Indiana’s health metrics and public health system and making recommendations to improve our state’s physical and fiscal well-being.

The commission recognized that a lack of state funding for public health in Indiana has created disparities in the availability of public health services across the state. These disparities have contributed to high rates of obesity, smoking, infant mortality and a life expectancy that has been declining since 2010, putting Indiana now two years below the U.S. average and heavily impacting working-age Hoosiers.

We support Gov. Eric Holcomb’s proposal to rectify this situation through a significant and sustainable state investment in local public health. Key elements of this proposal are that home rule is honored with the opportunity for local elected officials to opt-in to additional public health funding and that authority over public health services would remain with the local jurisdiction. We are encouraged that this additional funding will be used at the local level, in ways decided by local officials. Every county has unique needs and partnerships, and decisions about how public health services are delivered must be made at the local level, in collaboration between public health, elected officials, providers and community organizations.

Improving the health of Indiana’s citizens, county by county, in both our urban and rural areas, is essential to maintaining our status as a state that thrives. Rather than spending more every year on treating chronic disease and injuries, Indiana must focus on building its public health infrastructure and going upstream to prevent these issues.

Counties cannot fund these services on their own, however; most local public health funding currently comes from local property taxes, with some supplemental funds from the state, and funding varies widely by county, ranging from $1.25 to $83 per person.

Even after state tax cuts, Indiana is well-positioned to close this gap and transform the state’s public health system into a modern and robust system that will improve the health and well-being of Hoosiers. We believe the best way to do that is to fund public health in the amount requested in Holcomb’s budget proposal and ensure that this funding is awarded in a sustainable appropriation cycle that supports the development and implementation of vital public health programs.

We encourage state lawmakers to recognize that the return on a robust and sustainable state investment in public health, while measured over time, will be significant and benefit counties of all sizes. By making this investment, we can improve the health and quality of life for all Hoosiers, reduce health care costs and make Indiana a more desirable place to locate a family or a business.

SOURCE: South Bend Tribune

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