The study of premature death rates was published this week in Preventing Chronic Disease, a journal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In defining premature deaths as those before age 75, it looked at a period during the 1990s, a follow-up period from 2000 to 2009, the rates of change in those periods and the current rate of premature death.
During the 1990s, Georgia was 13th best in reducing premature deaths by 1.49 percent per year, which was right at the national average. But in the following decade, that rate of decline jumped to seventh best at 2.17 percent per year, well above the national average of 1.59 percent, according to the study.
But Georgia was still 41st in premature death rate at 388 per 100,000 compared with the best state, Minnesota, which had a premature death rate of 268 per 100,000. Mississippi had the worst rate – almost double of Minnesota – at 482 per 100,000. The numbers show a “good news/bad news situation,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Patrick L. Remington, a professor at the University of Wisconsin.
“The good news is that over the last 20 years, Georgia has been moving in the right direction and is in the top 10 in the trends in the last decade, top 10 in improvement over the last 20 years, but a long way to go,” he said.
Most of the worst performing states were in the South and many, like Alabama and Arkansas, showed a worse rate of improvement in the most recent decade compared to the 1990s, which indicated less momentum for change or “bending the curve,” as the study put it.
“They’re at the bottom of the list and they’re not getting better but Georgia seems to be bucking the trend,” Remington said.
The trends are important: both Oklahoma and New Jersey started off with similar rates in the 1990s but because New Jersey had one of best rates of decline in the ensuing decades, there are now 40 percent fewer premature deaths in New Jersey, the study concluded.
The study does not delve into what factors are driving the trends but certainly with the most common causes of premature death, such as smoking, “those things that contribute to premature death are getting better faster in Georgia than in other states in the country and particularly in its neighboring states,” Remington said.
With the Affordable Care Act and other reforms changing the way providers are paid, for instance punishing hospitals that readmit too many patients within 30 days of discharge, the trend is likely to continue, he said.
“As we go on, we don’t see any evidence of this trend slowing,” Remington said. “In fact, if you look at Georgia, it accelerated in the past 10 years. I would expect this to accelerate. We have the science, now we just have to have the business model to pay people to get these outcomes as opposed to paying people to provide more care.”