Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky report documents its change from a small philanthropy to ‘an influential statewide advocate’

Under new leadership, the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky “led or funded work to change dozens of state and local laws and policies in 2017 to help make Kentuckians healthier,” including much greater efforts to “reduce smoking and exposure to tobacco emissions,” the foundation says in its annual report.

The foundation is “making tremendous strides in transitioning from a relatively small health philanthropy toward an influential statewide advocate for policies that improve health across large populations,” said Mark Carter, chair of the foundation’s board of directors and CEO of Passport Health Plan.

Ben Chandler, a former congressman and state attorney general who became president and CEO of the foundation two years ago, said the effort accomplished “the largest cigarette tax increase in the history of the commonwealth, from the first Republican-led legislature in a century!” (Chandler is a Democrat.) The tax was raised 50 cents a pack, to $1.10; the foundation and its Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow wanted a $1 increase, saying tobacco companies would mask the increase with temporary coupons and discounts, which they are offering.

Carter says in the report, “We’re now moving into a front-line role” as “an influential advocate for policies that improve health. . . . We’re excited about the potential of this coalition to tackle one of the significant health issues in the commonwealth – high tobacco use.”

Kentucky’s health problems are broad and deep, and the foundation lacks the resources to tackle them all, so it must be selective, Carter says: “We must set challenging health improvement goals, but we also must narrow our focus so we can achieve them. In addition, we must engage community and health leaders in working together to be successful.”

The 18-year-old foundation says that while it shifted “to more of a focus on front-line policy advocacy than philanthropy,” it still made $1,002,724 in grants in 2017, supporting “access to health care, active living, healthy eating, and resilience in children,” the report says. It put $1,635,339 into programs, advocacy and research on tobacco policies, health disparities, the substance-use crisis, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed changes in Medicaid.

An event of the Clinton County Healthy Hometown Coalition

The foundation divides its work into three areas: tobacco use reduction, health policy, and “Investing in Kentucky’s Future,” a five-year-old program aimed at improving children’s health through local pilot projects. Those include the Breathitt County Health Planning Council for Children, the Clinton County Healthy Hometown Coalition, Fitness for Life Around Grant County, Louisville’s Bounce Coalition, the Partnership for a Healthy McLean County Coalition, the Healthy Paducah Chapter of the Purchase District Area Connections for Health Coalition and the Perry County Wellness Coalition.

The foundation’s report identifies four major recipients of its help for work in health policy:
Ky. Center for Smoke-Free Policy T-shirt
The Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy, which provides “science-based strategies for advancing smoke-free policies on the local level and educating citizens and policymakers about the importance of smoke-free environments,” the report says. The center conducts research on the topic and is run by University of Kentucky nursing Professor Ellen Hahn, the state’s leading anti-smoking advocate.

The Kentucky Equal Justice Center, an advocate for low-income Kentuckians and other vulnerable members of society, which reaches out to them with educational programs, helps them enroll in Medicaid, and advocates policies that help them. It was one of the nonprofit poverty-law centers that got a federal judge to block Gov. Matt Bevin’s plan to change Kentucky Medicaid.

Kentucky Voices for Health, a coalition of lobbying and other advocacy groups that support the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the state’s 2014 expansion of Medicaid under the act. It also advocates “policies to increase access to care, improve children’s health and increase the number of smoke-free jurisdictions in Kentucky,” the foundation’s report says.

Kentucky Youth Advocates, which “supports the foundation’s policy priority area of improving the health of Kentucky’s children through statewide policies,” the report says.

The foundation co-sponsors the Kentucky Health Issues Poll, the Howard Bost Memorial Health Policy Forum, research such as the recent study of health in Appalachia, and independent health journalism by KET and Kentucky Health News. KHN is also supported by UK’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes it.

The report for 2017 is available as an interactive website here. The foundation is funded by an endowment created from the charitable assets of Kentucky Blue Cross Blue Shield when it ceased to become a mutual insurance company and became part of Anthem Inc. Its mission is to address the unmet health needs of Kentuckians by developing and influencing policy, improving access to care, reducing health risks and disparities, and promoting health equity,” it says. Its website is

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