Improving Health through Collaboration

From tackling tobacco use to solving the opioid crisis, the Alliance for a Healthier Indiana seeks to pave the path to improved Hoosier health

One of the biggest topics of discussion during the 2017 legislative session—both within the Indiana General Assembly and in the media—was the proposed cigarette tax increase. It seemed everyone had an opinion on whether lawmakers should raise the current 99.5 cents per pack tax and, if so, how the money should be used.

Bryan Mills, CEO of Indianapolis-based Community Health Network and a founder of the Alliance for a Healthier Indiana, believes the message got lost in the mechanics.

“Everybody wants to talk about the tax. We’re about health. We’re about trying to improve the health of our citizens,” Mills says. “We want to give people another reason to try to quit.”

Indeed, with smoking being the leading cause of preventable death in the state, there’s plenty of reason to quit. Indiana ranks 39th in the nation for the percentage of adult smokers. More than one-fifth of the state’s population smokes, compared to the national average of 15.1 percent. Smoking costs Indiana $6 billion a year in health care costs, lost productivity and premature loss of life.

The Alliance, a coalition of health care professionals, advocates and community and business leaders across the state who are committed to improving the health of Indiana, advocated for the tax increase throughout the session. It was a key component of the group’s four-part plan to help tackle tobacco use:

  • Raise the price of cigarettes by $1.50 per pack
  • Restore funding for cessation and prevention programs to 2001 levels
  • Raise the minimum age for sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21
  • Repeal preferential treatment for smokers and empower businesses to effectively manage rising health care costs

In addition to reducing tobacco usage, the Alliance aims to tackle a number of other public health priorities, including opioid abuse, which costs the state $1.4 billion a year. Indiana ranks 35th in the nation for drug-related deaths with 16 deaths per 100,000 people in 2016, compared to the national rate of 14 deaths per 100,000. Hoosiers are more likely to die due to drug overdose than a car accident.

“There’s a link between smoking addiction and opioid addiction. If you can’t solve the first one, it’s more difficult to solve the second,” Mills says.

Mills notes that because opioid abuse is so prevalent across the entire nation—the issue often is termed “the opioid epidemic”—finding a solution is a major goal of health care professionals everywhere. He encourages organizations to work together as they develop strategies to attack the problem.

“There’s all kinds of interest in trying to address this because it’s pervasive,” Mills says. “We need to work on this collectively so we don’t end up with a multitude of competing actions.”

In addition to advocating for legislative solutions, the Alliance is working toward its priorities through education and communication. From large town hall meetings in communities across the state to one-on-one briefings with legislators at the Indiana Statehouse, Alliance members share information and data to emphasize the importance of improving the state of health in Indiana. The group also sends a weekly e-newsletter to subscribers and posts updates and information on social media.

“The health of the state is not good. No one will argue that,” Mills says. “We can talk about roads, jobs and infrastructure, but we believe that human capital is our greatest resource. This is about health, and this is our responsibility.”

Learn more about where Indiana ranks on leading health indicators and how you can get involved with the Alliance for a Healthier Indiana at HealthierIndiana.org.