Editorial: Health care in Bay State among the best, and worst

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Massachusetts has more doctors and dentists per capita than any state in the nation. We also have the highest percentage of insured residents in the country. We have world-class hospitals and universities and the best preventative medicine.

UMass Medical School

Wikimedia Commons/Photo by og-emmet

UMass Medical School

Why is it then that in a recent ranking of states with the best health care, Massachusetts ranks 15th?

Financial website WalletHub.com released “2016’s States with the Best & Worst Health Care” rankings on Tuesday.

WalletHub’s rankings included the District of Columbia. Among the 51 rankings, Massachusetts comes in 15th overall.

On a positive note, the Bay State ranked second overall in health outcomes, which represented one-third of the total score.

WalletHub determined health outcomes by weighing infant mortality rate [Editor’s note: Check out this Sun special report.], child mortality rate, maternal mortality rate, patient hospital-readmittance rate, life expectancy at birth, cancer rate, heart disease rate, the percentage of at-risk adults without a doctor visit in the previous two years, and the percentage of adults without a dental visit in the past year.

Only Hawaii, which ranks seventh overall, achieved a better ranking for health outcomes.

Massachusetts scored seventh in access to health care, which also represented one-third of the total ranking.

Among the data taken into account in access to health care were number of physicians, dentists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants per capita, as well as the percentage of residents covered by insurance. Massachusetts ranks first overall in doctors and dentists per capita, as well as the percentage of residents covered by insurance.

The District of Columbia, Maine, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Nebraska and Minnesota, respectively, rank above Massachusetts in access to health care.

With positive health outcomes and access to health care care high, what drags down Massachusetts in the rankings? Follow the money.

Only Alaska has higher health care costs than Massachusetts.

WalletHub’s ranking for health care costs is based on four equally weighted metrics: out-of-pocket spending, average monthly insurance premium, cost of a medical visit, and cost of a dental visit.

We would expect the high costs of health care would translate into better outcomes, and the rankings appear to indicate that is the case.

At the same time, it should be noted that Hawaii and Minnesota, which rank first and third in health outcomes, also rank 15th and 11th in total healthcare costs.

Massachusetts is a national model for insuring those who were previously uninsured. MassHealth now insures one-quarter of the population. In addition, according to America’s Health Ranking, the state is at the forefront of preventative medicine.

However, with health care representing 18 percent of all state and local spending, continued increases will crowd out spending on education, public safety and infrastructure, a point made in a recent study by the Pioneer Institute.

It is time for Massachusetts to become a model for the nation in reining in the cost of health care.

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