Georgia gets poor grades — again

Georgia already ranks low nationally in several public health measures, and two rankings that appeared Wednesday won’t do much to enhance the state’s portfolio.

The March of Dimes issued its Premature Birth Report Card, and the state received an “F’’ for its high pre-term birth rate. The Georgia figure did improve slightly, to 13.4 percent in 2008 (the latest year that data are available) from 13.9 percent the year before.

The overall national trend is improving a bit, too.  After three decades of increases, the United States in 2008 saw the first two-year decline in the pre-term birth rate, a 4 percent drop from 2006, the March of Dimes report says. “The policy changes and programs to prevent pre-term birth that our volunteers and staff have worked so hard to bring about are starting to pay off,” said Dr. Jennifer Howse, president of the March of Dimes.

Overall, though, the United States still received a “D” on the report card, when national pre-term birth rates are measured against the Healthy People 2010 goals. The Southeast as a region fared poorly, with almost all states earning a failing grade.

Meanwhile, a report released by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids ranked Georgia 43rd among  states in its funding for state tobacco prevention programs. The report finds that states have cut funding for tobacco prevention and cessation programs to the lowest level since 1999, when they first received tobacco settlement funds.

Georgia is spending $2 million on tobacco prevention in fiscal 2011, down from $2.1 million during the previous fiscal year – and down from $20 million in fiscal 2002. The state’s current spending is 1.8 percent of the CDC’s recommended level – which forms the basis of the rankings. Georgia did better than its ranking from the year before, which was  47th.

The state lags on other smoking stats as well. The American Lung Association reported last week that Georgia is one of five states that provide no cessation coverage for state employees. And Georgia is one of only five states that do not aid Medicaid recipients trying to quit smoking, other than to provide the new cessation benefit for pregnant women under health reform, says June Deen, state director for the American Lung Association in Georgia.

Both pre-term births ($26 billion a year nationally) and smoking  ($96 billion in health care bills) have a tremendous cost. And that cost dwarfs the dollars currently spent on prevention.