Hoosiers’ health is a high priority this spring. The spreading coronavirus pandemic has riveted each person’s attention to their own well-being, and that of loved ones and friends.

People with underlying health issues are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Those include respiratory ailments, addictions, heart disease, diabetes and cancer, many of which are attributable to the high rate of smoking here.

Before the pandemic hit Indiana in 2020, underlying issues were already putting pressure on hospitals, emergency rooms, insurance providers, publicly funded health care services and employers. Indiana consistently ranks among the bottom 10 states in the well-being of citizens compiled annually in the United Health Foundation “America’s Health Rankings.”

Not coincidentally, United Health’s calculations also ranked Indiana next to last in spending on public health.

As the biblical passage says, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The state government’s allocation of health resources seems to show, its heart just is not in it.

It is long overdue for the Statehouse leadership to take the overall health of people as seriously as it does economic development and corporate tax breaks. For example, early in this century, Indiana was one of just six states to fund smoking prevention efforts at the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Indianapolis Star reported in July. Now, the state commits just one-tenth of the CDC’s recommendations.

With the pandemic now bearing down on the Midwest, the demands placed on state and county health departments are at a peak. Funding for those services is low. That is, and has been, a mistake in priorities.

It was refreshing to hear Gov. Eric Holcomb acknowledge the situation in a virtual news conference last Wednesday.

Does Indiana need to increase its public health funding? “The answer is yes,” Holcomb said. “Clearly, the answer was yes before this.” His state health commissioner, Dr. Kristina Box, agreed. She wishes more resources could be directed to public health and better support for local health departments statewide.

Holcomb’s Democratic opponent in the 2020 race for governor, Dr. Woody Myers, the former state health commissioner, echoed that objective.

That recognition of the problem by both major gubernatorial candidates increases the likelihood that proper resources will be committed to improving Hoosiers’ well-being. The more complicated step toward that goal will be convincing the ruling party in the Indiana General Assembly to join the cause. Legislators are crucial in determining the allocation of public funds.

The Trust for America’s Health yearly assessment of states shows Indiana “has not taken several steps that would strengthen its preparedness for public health emergencies.” The state ranked a low 3 on the Trust’s 1-to-10 scale in “preparedness for diseases, disasters and bioterrorism.”

This pandemic is revealing many lessons, now seen in hindsight. Indiana’s need for more solid public health resources is one of those lessons.

This editorial was originally published in The Tribune-Star, Terre Haute.

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