States made little progress in improving health care access, quality, and outcomes and lowering costs in the five years preceding implementation of the major coverage provisions of the Affordable Care Act (2007-2012), according to the Commonwealth Fund's third state health system scorecard. The majority of states declined or failed to improve on two-thirds of the 34 scorecard indicators that could be tracked over time.
Wide gaps among states persisted since the last scorecard, with top states sometimes performing two to eight times better than the lowest-performing states. For example, the rates of elderly receiving high-risk medications, children hospitalized for asthma, Medicare hospital readmissions, and potentially preventable deaths before age 75 were more than twice as high in states near the bottom of the scorecard compared to states with the best performance.
The report, Aiming Higher: Results from a Scorecard on State Health System Performance, 2014, ranks the health systems of every state and the District of Columbia based on 42 health care measures, 34 of which are used to reveal trends between 2007 and 2011-12. All states saw meaningful improvement on at least seven of the 34 trend measures. However, more than half of states lost ground on at least 9 indicators.
Indicators for which performance improved in a majority of states were often the targets of concerted federal and state efforts. Gains in safe prescribing for the elderly, reductions in avoidable hospital admissions and readmissions, higher childhood vaccination rates, and fewer cancer-related deaths chiefly resulted from greater attention being paid at both the national and state levels, including investment to promote better health outcomes.
For example, Vermont -- which ranks near the top of the scorecard, along with Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Hampshire -- has been a national leader in guaranteeing access to care and investing in primary care. In these states, between 5 percent and 17 percent of working-age adults were uninsured in 2011-12. In contrast, the states at the bottom of the scorecard -- Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana -- had adult uninsured rates between 22 percent and 28 percent in 2011-12.
"This state scorecard underscores the importance of national and state actions to ensure that no matter where a person lives, they have access to an affordable, high-quality health system," said Commonwealth Fund Senior Vice President Cathy Schoen. "In the five years before the Affordable Care Act's major insurance expansions, access to health care declined and, too often, states declined or failed to improve, with only pockets of progress. Leading states raised the bar on some measures, and most states improved on key areas for the elderly. But the overall pace of change was slow and less than we should expect given how much we pay for health care."
Coverage and Access to Health Care Declined; Costs Were a Barrier to Care
According to the scorecard, in the five years before the Affordable Care Act's full implementation, uninsured rates for adults grew and health care became less affordable:
"In the United States, where you live has long determined the kind of health care you receive, and it shouldn't," said Commonwealth Fund President David Blumenthal, M.D. "The Affordable Care Act has the potential to level the playing field, as all states have the opportunity to make substantial improvements to their health care systems if they take full advantage of the law, including Medicaid expansion."
Millions Would Benefit If All States Met Top Benchmarks
Substantial benefits would be seen across the country if all states elevated their performance and reached the benchmarks set by the leading states. For example, if all states could do as well as the top-performing states:
The authors note that while improvements among low-performing states would have some of the most substantial effects, there is room for improvement across all states -- even those at the top. That's because none of the best-performing states scored near the top on all 42 measures.
Additional State Scorecard Highlights
"The scorecard shows us that improvement is possible," said David Radley, Project Director for the Commonwealth Fund's Health System Scorecard Project at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, and the report's lead author. "We hope to see progress accelerate and spread in the future. But for that to happen, states and local health care systems must make concerted efforts to set goals, aim to achieve them, and learn what works from one another."
The scorecard and an interactive map that allows users to download individual state profiles and compare states are available at http://www.commonwealthfund.org/Publications/Fund-Reports/2014/Apr/2014-State-Scorecard.aspx.
A Viewpoint on the scorecard findings, "Opportunities to Aim Higher for State Health System Performance," is also being published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
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