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Commonwealth Fund: Health Indicators Vary by Community

By CQ Staff

March 14, 2012 -- How good one’s health care is, how much it costs, and how easy it is to access can vary widely from community to community, according to a Commonwealth Fund report released Wednesday.

Fund officials say its Commission on a High Performance Health System measured how 306 local areas stack up on such health indicators as insurance coverage, preventive care, and mortality rates.

Major U.S. cities also showed wide disparities in many key measures of health care, with San Francisco and Seattle ranking among the top 75 local areas in the country, while Houston and Miami ranked in the bottom 75. The report includes an interactive map that compares cities and communities across the United States.

The authors say the low-performing areas can now only learn from the higher-performing ones but that if they do, it would translate into more people being insured and better health care overall.

According to the scorecard, 66 million people live in the lowest-performing local areas in the country. “If all local areas could do as well as the top performers, 30 million more adults and children would have health insurance, 1.3 million more elderly would receive safe or appropriate medications, and Medicare would save billions of dollars on preventable hospitalizations and readmissions,’’ Fund officials said.

The study found geographic patterns, ones that were predictable. It says local areas in the Northeast and Upper Midwest were most often ranked at the top, while local areas in the South, particularly the Gulf Coast and southern central states, tended to rank at the bottom on many measures.

“This first local scorecard provides a baseline for how health care systems are performing at the local level when it comes to the most essential functions, including whether people can get the health care they need, whether they receive timely preventive care and treatment, how healthy they are and how affordable health care is,” said Commonwealth Fund Senior Vice President Cathy Schoen, a coauthor of the report. “The scorecard is a tool for local health care leaders and policymakers that allows them to focus on where their health care systems fall short, learn from the best-performing areas, and target efforts to improve where they are needed most.”

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