Florida slips to 36th on annual list of most healthy states

Florida fell three notches to 36 among all 50 states in the annual “America’s Health Ranking” for 2016 released Thursday by the United Health Foundation, a nonprofit arm of insurer United Health Group.

For the fifth straight year, Hawaii was ranked the nation’s healthiest state. Massachusetts finished second followed by Connecticut, Minnesota and Vermont.

Mississippi was the unhealthiest state in 2016 followed by Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama and Oklahoma. In the 27 years that the annual report on resident health status has been released, Mississippi has finished last or next to last 25 times. In 1998 and 1991, Mississippi ranked 48th.

The state rankings are based on 34 measures involving four health determinants: behaviors, community and environment, policy and clinical care. The scoring methodology was developed and reviewed by public health experts.

Florida’s ranking – down from 33 in 2015 – in part reflects its high rate of residents with no health insurance, 15 percent. Only two states – Texas and Alaska – had higher rates. Florida also struggles with a high child poverty rate of 24.4 percent. Only six states had higher rates.

The Affordable Care Act gives states the option of extending Medicaid coverage to working-age adults who earn at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. In 2014, 2015 and 2016, the federal government paid the entire cost to cover newly eligible Medicaid recipients under the health care law.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led state legislature have opposed expanding Medicaid, saying it is too costly even though states would pay no more than 10 percent of medical costs for newly eligible enrollees after 2016.

President-elect Donald Trump and congressional Republicans have vowed to repeal and replace the ACA.

Nationally, the study notes long term health improvements in the nation, like a 41 percent decline in adult smoking rates since 1990. In addition, the nation experienced a 35-percent decline in the rate of residents without health coverage over the last five years.

But the report also notes, for the first time ever, that the nation’s cardiovascular death rate increased from the previous year from about 251 deaths per 100,000 to nearly 252.

The national death rate from drugs also increased 9 percent over the last five years and by 4 percent from 2015 to 2016. Increasing drug deaths have helped fuel a rise in the nation’s premature death rate for the last two years.

“We have made important strides across the country against public health challenges; however, we are at a crossroads between a healthier future as a nation and a future in which troubling public health measurements become increasingly common,” said a statement from Reed Tuckson, external senior medical adviser to United Health Foundation. “Of particular concern is the first-time rise in cardiovascular deaths, despite all the medical advances in this area. This data provides a roadmap for states, local communities and the public health sector to work together to get ahead of the challenges coming.”