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Report: Arizona lagging behind in per capita health spending

State Health Director Cara Christ at a briefing on COVID-19 earlier this month. (Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services, file)

State Health Director Cara Christ at a briefing on COVID-19 earlier this month. (Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services, file)

PHOENIX — Arizona reportedly is ranked as the third-worst nationally for the amount of money it spends on public health at $10 per person.

The analysis from the State Health Access Data Assistance Center shows that only Missouri and Nevada spent less per capita, the Arizona Republic reports.

Arizona’s public health spending increased in 2019 to $15 per capita, according to data from the nonprofit Trust for America’s Health.

A state’s investment in public health isn’t the only measure of its ability to handle an emergency such as COVID-19.

However, some experts tell the Republic that it shows political foresight to invest up-front in an infrastructure the supports disease prevention, crisis preparedness and aims to end the health disparities that are already emerging with COVID-19 because the coronavirus-caused disease affects minorities at disproportionate rates.

“It’s an indicator of the state’s political willingness to fund things that protect people, prevent disease and often has a tremendous return on investment,” Dr. Bob England, interim director of the Pima County Health Department, told the Republic.

Lynn Blewett, director of the State Health Access Data Assistance Center that’s based at the University of Minnesota, said “at this time, during this pandemic, you certainly don’t want to be on the low end of this list.”

Blewett added that the public health infrastructure at the state level is critical for emergency preparedness and response.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s administration has prioritized investments in public health and public safety, gubernatorial spokesman Patrick Ptak said.

Ducey signed legislation last month that added $55 million to the state’s Public Health Emergency Fund to support Arizona’s efforts to combat the continued spread of the coronavirus.

One-time emergency funding at the federal and state levels in response to COVID-19 is not an ideal way to recruit and retain highly skilled employees or prevent future pandemics, said John Auerbach, president and CEO of the nonprofit, Washington, D.C.-based Trust for America’s Health.

“It’s not an attractive pitch to say take a job with us for a year and after that the money from Congress is over,” Auerbach said. “It becomes very hard to sustain your level of professionalism when you’ve got this up-and-down funding.”

The Trust for America’s Health report listed Arizona’s 2019 state spending on public health as $109 million, which is less than one-fifth what Massachusetts spent that year.

Arizona has a 6% larger population than Massachusetts based on 2019 census estimates.

But the report showed Arizona has a population that’s 4% smaller than Washington, yet Washington spent more than three times as much on public health.

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