Kentucky Sees Big Gains in 2017 Commonwealth Fund State Health System Performance Scorecard

As the data scientist for the Kentuckiana Health Collaborative, I keep my eye on datasets that show how Kentucky and the Greater Louisville area stack up against our peers throughout the country in key health behaviors, outcomes, and care. When a new report is released, I scan it to see where we rank and where we might have made improvements or backslid, and I typically send out a series of tweets and/or write a blog with some of my observations and thoughts.

You can probably guess how the summaries often go. “Kentucky shows familiar problem areas,” “Kentucky holds steady at 49th in the country in [insert measure of choice here],” or “Kentucky improves slightly from 46th to 45th” all probably sound very familiar to you, if you follow national health rankings.

So you can probably imagine why my jaw literally dropped – in the best way – yesterday morning when I opened my email to find that The Commonwealth Fund had released its 2017 edition of its Scorecard on State Health System Performance, and I saw that Kentucky had jumped from 47th to 39th.

Eight spots. Let that sink in.

Kentucky joined California, Colorado, New York and Washington as one of the states that made the biggest jumps in this year’s report. Kentucky also improved on more measures than any other state.

It feels great to be able to write a blog post that celebrates Kentucky’s gains in a collection of 40 quality indicators related to healthcare accessibility, outcomes, equity, use, and cost. I highly encourage you to explore The Commonwealth Fund’s interactive report yourself here for much more detail on state and national trends. I promise it is worth your time.

A majority of Kentucky’s gains came in the Access and Affordability category, jumping from 34th to 18th in the U.S. The time period for the dataset spanned 2013 to 2015; Kentucky’s traditional Medicaid expansion took effect in January 2014. In general, The Commonwealth Fund’s report noted that states that chose to expand Medicaid saw greater gains in access to healthcare.

However, the report isn’t all roses for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. While access and affordability improved in Kentucky, other categories stayed relatively the same. Kentucky fell from 28th to 29th in Prevention and Treatment, which includes indicators such as appropriate vaccines and screenings, usual sources of care, and patient safety. The state fell from 49th to 50th in Avoidable Hospital Use and Cost, which looks at admissions, readmissions, and total cost of admission. And Kentucky rose just one place from 46th to 45th in the Healthy Lives category, which looks at various health behaviors and outcomes such as cancer deaths, premature deaths, smoking, and obesity. I’d be curious to see if, given time, that the gains in access would translate into improvements in these other categories.

There’s more work to be done and more progress to be made. Sitting at 39th still means that Kentucky falls in the bottom quartile among the states. But for a data scientist who is accustomed to seeing only the slightest of changes from year to year, a gain of eight spots is something to smile about.