A recent report by the New York Times contained an excellent graphic showing the current percentage of uninsured people in each state.  The range is from a high of 24.6% in Texas to a low of 4.4% in Massachusetts.I have combined this rate with the most recently reported CDC rate of obesity in each state to create what I call The Pain Index.  It is a simple sum of the two numbers. 

The theory behind the total is that obesity is a rough guide for the level of unhealthiness in the population.  My hypothesis is that, when insurance is made available to people, they will use it, roughly in proportion to the degree they are unhealthy.

Yes, I know this is a crude metric, but I think it will be a relatively good predictor of the rate of increase in health care costs in each state over the coming years.  This will show up in the insurance premium rates offered in the health care exchanges and will also affect the need for state appropriations to pay for newly eligible Medicaid subscribers.

States with a Pain Index in the top decile are: Texas, South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas.  Others with scores over 45 are Nevada, Florida, New Mexico, Georgia, Alaska, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, and West Virginia.

My advice to policy-makers:  Get ready!  My advice to health care CEOs:  This would be a really good time to focus on quality, safety, and front-line driven process improvement as the most effective way to reduce your costs and improve efficiency.

Paul Levy is the former President and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. For the past five years he blogged about his experiences in an online journal, Running a Hospital. He now writes as an advocate for patient-centered care, eliminating preventable harm, transparency of clinical outcomes, and front-line driven process improvement at Not Running a Hospital.

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2 Responses for “The Pain Index”

  1. John Irvine says:

    Very cool idea, Paul. Just the kind of out of the box thinking we need. Would be interesting to look at the historical data and see how the pain index rankings have changed over time as states get healthier or – as is more usually the case – what happens as things start to go downhill. …

  2. Peter1 says:

    “This will show up in the insurance premium rates offered in the health care exchanges and will also affect the need for state appropriations to pay for newly eligible Medicaid subscribers.”

    The exchanges will be the dumping ground for the sick and the poor – little incentive for the healthy and somewhat financially able to rush in with their low risk and non-subsidy premium dollars.

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