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Report ranks Iowa 22nd in nation for COVID-19 related health measures

Emergency staff at Methodist Hospital in Des Moines have seen an increase in COVID-19 patients. The West Des Moines-based health system announced it will no longer allow walk-in COVID-19 testing for people without symptoms.
Natalie Krebs
IPR File
Emergency staff at Methodist Hospital in Des Moines saw an increase in COVID-19 patients last fall and reported high levels of staff burnout due to the pandemic.

A new report has ranked Iowa 22nd in the nation for its performance on COVID-19 related health measures.

The Commonwealth Fund’s annual State Health System Performance scorecard ranks states on 49 health-related measures.

But, this year, the report added seven measures specifically related to COVID-19.

"The data in this report really covers the span from 2020, and, in some cases, through about March of 2022, for some indicators," said David Radley, senior scientist for health system tracking at the Commonwealth Fund. "And so we really do get like a really nice sort of, you know, broad view about what was happening in states as the pandemic was playing out."

The COVID measures include vaccination rates, hospitalization numbers and excessive death information. Iowa ranked between 13th and 28th on the measures.

For example, the report found Iowa's ICUs were full to at least 80% capacity for 117 days from August 2020 to March 2022, ranking it 27th in the country on this measure.

"What we do know is that anytime you're near or above that sort of 80% threshold, it really is putting a lot of stress on the delivery system," Radley said. "And we certainly saw that play out in Iowa."

Radley said another measure that stuck out to him was the number of days it took Iowa to fully vaccinate its population 12 and older. Iowa ranked 28th in the nation.

"So the fastest states got that 70%...fully vaccinated in around 200 days," he said. "In Iowa it took 431 days. So, you know, that's sort of double the fastest pace."

However, Iowa came in at 17th in the nation for its overall health performance on 49 general health-related measures.

Radley calls this "a bit of a surprise." In the health policy think tank's last full annual report in 2020, Iowa ranked 4th overall.

"Iowa normally ranks very high in our reports," he said.

The areas Iowa struggles with most are issues of health care access and affordability, like the cost of health insurance premiums, he said.

"We see that insurance costs for working people—so these would be like the employee contributions to their insurance premiums, and then the deductible that they're being asked to pay—it accounts for 13% of the median income in Iowa," Radley said.

That's up from 9% five years ago, he said. Iowa ranked 34th on this measure.

Another measure that stands out is Iowa's rate of alcohol-related deaths where it ranks 38th in the nation, Radley said.

"So worse than average for sure, and, and sort of uncharacteristically high for relative to where Iowa falls on other indicators," he said.

Natalie Krebs is IPR's Health Reporter