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updated: 6/13/2018 1:55 PM

Health experts urge Indiana to increase public health funds

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- Indiana health experts are pushing for more state funding to address problems, including the opioid epidemic, tobacco use and high infant mortality rates.

Doctors, community leaders and public policy experts discussed health-related topics Tuesday at a State of Our Health Road Show, a forum hosted by the Alliance for a Healthier Indiana, The Journal Gazette reported .

Indiana has some of the highest rates of tobacco use and obesity, according to a recent report from the United Health Foundation.

The state's health is so poor because not enough money goes into public health, said Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan.

Indiana spends less than $62 per resident in public health funding, according to the America's Health Rankings 2017 report. Only Nevada spends less, the report said.

The state should increase cigarette taxes and use that revenue to boost public health efforts, said Dr. Tony GiaQuinta, president of the Indiana American Academy of Pediatrics.

"It has been well-studied that when you raise the tax, less people will smoke," GiaQuinta said. "That money needs to go back into public health."

The alliance hopes to raise the state's cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack. That policy move could net the state about $315 million, according to Alliance estimates.

Health problems also threaten the state's economy, forum speakers said. Illnesses can drive up employers' costs to insure workers and unhealthy employees sometimes can't work, said Brian Tabor, president of the Indiana Hospital Association.

"It is a business issue," he said.

The Alliance for a Healthier Indiana is comprised of doctors, health care professionals, advocates and community and business leaders. The organization has scheduled 17 such forums around the state.

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Information from: The Journal Gazette, http://www.journalgazette.net

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