Inside Kentucky Health

It would be hard not to be aware that there’s a primary election coming up in Kentucky on May 19.

A hotly contested Republican primary for governor is getting most of the media’s attention, as Hal Heiner, Matt Bevin, James Comer and Will T. Scott are busy buying up airtime on local TV and radio stations in an attempt to get their messages out to voters.

Unfortunately, those messages are falling largely on deaf ears. In the primary last May, just 27 percent of all registered voters went to the polls. And the statistics for younger voters suggest an even greater lack of interest — only 11.7 percent registered voters aged 17-24 cast a ballot, according to the State Board of Elections.

That election included one of the most expensive primaries in Kentucky history in terms of advertising dollars spent, as Sen. Mitch McConnell held off a challenge from Bevin.

Those statistics are discouraging to leaders in the health care industry, especially those pushing for legislation that improves the health and quality of life of Kentuckians.

In the most recent legislative session, a statewide smoking ban passed the state House, but it won’t become law because it died in a Senate committee.

“People can have an impact in the public sector, but it takes commitment and ideas,” said Dr. Whitney F. Jones, a Louisville gastroenterologist and board chairman of the Kentucky Cancer Foundation.  “We canchangethings but you have to have an operational plan. People who don’t think they can change government have never tried.”

Dr. Whitney F. Jones, a Louisville gastroenterologist and board chairman of the Kentucky Cancer Foundation.
Dr. Whitney F. Jones, a Louisville gastroenterologist and board chairman of the Kentucky Cancer Foundation.

Jones was instrumental in working with government officials to create a colon cancer screening program in Kentucky. He said that it’s more important than ever for government to enact policies to improve health, such as screenings for various diseases.

“We are a society that believes there’s a cure for every illness, but treating disease is unaffordable,” said Jones. “We can pay for prevention, and 75 percent of chronic disease is lifestyle-related.”

Besides the battle over a smoking ban, which has raged on for years in the Kentucky House and Senate, many other bills affecting overall health are considered in every session.

Bills providing access to screening and prevention services, along with those that protect children and minorities, get their start when affected individuals talk to their representatives in government.

Jennifer Hancock, recently named president of the Volunteers of America of Kentucky, pointed to some key issues important to her constituency.

“Volunteers of America encourages everyone to register to vote and then get out to vote in the upcoming primary election. There is simply no better way to have your voice heard on important issues facing our community like the heroin crisis, Medicaid expansion and affordable housing,” she said.

The first step in participating in legislative decision-making is helping elect candidates sympathetic to your causes.

“We encourage our community to seek a dialogue with candidates on both sides of the aisle about these important issues and learn how they plan to address them,” Hancock said. “Every day, we provide real and lasting solutions for vulnerable families and individuals and we must elect leaders who are willing to join us in tackling these serious social and public health issues.”

The primary is May 19, and the general election is Nov. 3. You can take the first step in making your voice heard by going to the polls. It may be the best step you can take to improve Kentucky’s health. For more information, go online to http://elect.ky.gov/.

Jones credited the late Kentucky Governor and Senator Wendell Ford for influencing him on the importance of participating in the legislative process.

“His philosophy was to represent the people, and he met and talked to them on every important issue,” Jones said.

Health Reports
Passport Health Plan is a provider-sponsored, non-profit, community-based health plan administering Medicaid benefits to more than 310,000 Kentuckians. Passport has been contracted with the Commonwealth of Kentucky to administer Medicaid benefits since 1997. For more information, call (800) 578-0603 or go online to www.passporthealthplan.com.