Despite tremendous improvements in the 20th century, the U.S. is still far from being the healthiest nation. According to the Commonwealth Fund, we spend far more on health care than any other high-income country, but our lives are shorter and less healthy. To become the healthiest nation, we must invest in prevention and wellness to address the root causes — social and environmental factors — that affect everyone’s health. The Prevention and Public Health Fund is a unique opportunity to do just that.
More than 900 groups support our nation’s largest single investment in prevention. The dollars are going to programs and initiatives at the local, state and federal levels that detect and respond to infectious disease threats, prevent lead poisoning, fight obesity and curb tobacco use. For instance, initiatives financed through the fund include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Tips From Former Smokers campaign, which has encouraged about 104,000 Americans to quit smoking for good and will help prevent nearly 20,000 premature deaths caused by tobacco use. During the first week of this campaign ad, Quitline Iowa experience a 53.9% increase in calls from Iowans seeking help to quit tobacco. And the Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant has helped states reach milestones including reducing prescription drug abuse in Arkansas, preventing long-term disability from stroke in Georgia, stopping a foodborne outbreak from spreading in Missouri and reducing teen drinking in Wisconsin.
The state of Iowa has received $48 million from the Prevention and Public Health Fund since 2010. Iowa has invested these resources to respond rapidly to emerging health issues; increase the number of women screened for breast and cervical cancer; support the ability of state and local health departments to prevent, detect, and respond to infectious disease outbreaks; improve access to vaccines; increase participation in evidence-based community programs to reduce falls; and more.
The fund is already having a profound impact on the physical and economic health of communities across the country, particularly those struggling with rising rates of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, by supporting programs that improve American diets, increase physical activity and reduce tobacco use. The fund is helping to create healthier communities, schools, workplaces and homes by making healthy living easier.
For the third year in a row, Congress fully allocated the fund, ensuring that the money is used as intended. However, the fund remains vulnerable. Already this year, both the House and Senate have targeted the fund to use as an offset to pay for other programs and in past years, major portions of the fund have been redirected for unintended uses. In 2016, the fund was cut by $68 million and will continue to face cuts through 2023 unless Congress agrees to an alternative solution to reduce the deficit.
It is critical that all members of Congress support the fund in order to build on our progress of creating a healthier nation. Efforts to cut or reallocate the fund will only continue the senseless fluctuation we’ve seen in funding levels for public health and hamper the ability of our local health departments to prevent disease and injuries.
The message to Iowa’s Congressional delegation is clear: safeguard the Prevention and Public Health Fund so we can make the U.S. the healthiest nation by investing in prevention and well being and restraining the growth of health care costs as Congress originally intended.
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• Barbara Chadwick, of Mount Vernon, is past president of the Iowa Public Health Association.