The Best Medicine

It’s kind of a no-brainer that preventive care helps to reduce long-term health costs. The new health reform bill has allocated about $15 billion over the next 10 years towards prevention efforts. How that money gets spent is still to be determined – will it help to fund existing programs like diabetes education, or prenatal care for underserved women – or should it go towards developing innovative community based programs to improve conditions like childhood obesity or provide better access to fresh fruits and vegetables? Or maybe the CDC should get a big chunk to do more research to prevent chronic diseases.

However it’s ultimately divided, the overriding goal is to transform a reactive health system that is treatment focused to a proactive one focused on wellness. It is certainly going to help save lives by finding cancers sooner, improving heart health, helping diabetics better manage insulin levels, and encouraging more well visits rather than sick visits to an emergency room.

Fifteen billion sure seems like a lot of money. But when you divvy it up between state & territorial programs, non-profit groups like the American Lung Association or the American Heart Association, the CDC, and various other existing community based efforts, it suddenly seems like not nearly enough.

The Prevention Institute, a national non-profit focused on health and social equity and reducing health disparities, argues “a strategic framework that emphasizes prevention, wellness, and equity can significantly alleviate the social and financial costs associated with sickness and health care by keeping people from getting sick and injured in the first place. It is our nation’s responsibility to ensure that the expenditure of these funds supports efforts that are effective and will improve health, particularly for those who experience inequities in health.” They advocate more innovative community based health programs in underserved neighborhoods.

The law establishes mechanisms to expand community health centers, and to develop personalized wellness plans as part of regular health screenings. Some of these neighborhood outreach efforts include smoking cessation, nutrition counseling, substance abuse counseling, stress management, and exercise programs, — based on established scientific evidence and accepted medical guidelines. Small businesses are also eligible for grants to boost workplace wellness programs.

By identifying and targeting health risks early on, diseases can be found sooner and managed more effectively – slowing or reversing progression.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the new law ensures that all new US health insurance policies must cover all evidence based clinical preventive services at no cost to patients. This financial incentive should encourage many more people to seek regular preventive care. Unfortunately, existing insurance plans do not have to adhere to these guidelines; however the Dept. of Health and Human Services is still drafting regulations, so determining what plans are “new” and which will be “grandfathered” are yet to be decided.

As Robert Pestronk, Executive Director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) said, “Who doesn’t prefer health? It is the foundation for a high quality of life.”

Regardless of the final allocations, that $15 billion can’t be spent quickly enough.

What kinds of programs or services would you like to see in your community? New bike paths? More parks and open spaces for kids to play? Nutrition counseling or additional support services for the needy? Please chime in!

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One thought on “The Best Medicine

  1. Great post. I would like to see money to make fresh whole foods readily available and affordable, and also nutrition education so that people opt for the healthy rather than processed foods. Also, money to make our communities more walkable. Thanks for inviting your readers to weigh in!

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