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Money spent on prevention pays off

2013-09-06T00:00:00Z Money spent on prevention pays offBy Alicia Thompson and Melanie Reynolds Helena Independent Record
September 06, 2013 12:00 am  • 

During the past few years, there’s been a push in this country to use our health care dollars more wisely. One way to do that is to shift the focus of our health care spending from treating disease to preventing it. We could save millions of dollars — and millions of lives, too.

But that isn’t the direction our leaders are taking. Since 2010, Congress has significantly cut the budgets of public health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). It has not fully funded the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which was created to support state and local efforts to provide more preventive care.

These devastating cuts threaten existing disease-prevention programs. And the proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2014 will only compound the problem — unless our lawmakers recognize the value of investing in preventive care.

The concept of prevention makes sense to anyone who owns a car. Changing your oil regularly and getting maintenance checks can save you a lot of money on repairs down the road.

The same goes for preventing disease. If we pay for programs that promote immunizations and discourage tobacco use and obesity, the results will be less chronic disease (like cancer, heart disease and diabetes), longer lives, less need for expensive medical treatments and fewer lost work and school days. Individuals and communities would benefit.

Research shows that a $3 billion investment in public health can yield more than $16 billion in annual savings within five years.

But doing what makes sense isn’t always easy. The federal government has cut programs that could improve the health of our communities: immunizations, maternal and prenatal care, newborn screenings tests, medical care for rural and economically distressed areas and programs that help prevent diabetes, heart disease, cancer and stroke.

In Montana, federal dollars provide a foundation for local health departments that keeps our communities safe and healthy.

Smart public-health programming has helped our state reduce rates of diabetes and deaths due to heart disease. But we still face serious challenges. Our state ranks 10th in the nation for binge drinking, and we have the fourth-highest rate of work-related deaths in the nation. Smoking rates among pregnant women still are unacceptably high, and we have the second-lowest childhood immunization rate in the country.

Until we seriously and consistently invest in public health, our nation will continue spending billions of dollars treating chronic health problems that can — and should — be prevented.

Rather than cut back on funding that can help Montana communities, our leaders in Congress should fully fund CDC, HRSA, and the Prevention Fund. All of us should demand that they do so — if we want to shift our health system from one that focuses mostly on treating the sick to one that keeps people healthy in the first place.

Alicia Thompson is president-elect of the Montana Public Health Association. Melanie Reynolds is the health officer for the Lewis and Clark City-County Health Department.

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(8) Comments

  1. enu_22
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    enu_22 - September 26, 2013 8:06 am
    I never try to teach a pig to sing because it annoys the pig and wastes my time. There will come a day of reckoning for all when having affordable healthcare will be a necessity.
  2. turner
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    turner - September 19, 2013 5:31 pm
    An interesting comment I read on The Tragedy of the Commons. Seems that as it has been interpreted over the years the author himself recognized that his use of the word "commons" in his essay has been misunderstood. He is reported to have said his work should have been better named "The Tragedy of the Unregulated Commons." Seems he recognized that all this talk of taking care of one's self is not all it's cracked up to be in all situations. And never more so is that true than in the world of insurance, medical care, and medical costs. Everyone for him or herself is not always the best result for the individual, let alone society at large.
  3. Riamh
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    Riamh - September 15, 2013 9:31 pm
    He just doesn't get it FL. he's much too busy looking down his nose at people less fortunate than himself. He thinks non-profit hospitals should allow people to die based on their ability to pay or not.
  4. otis mule
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    otis mule - September 13, 2013 8:56 pm
    Sorry 4MT, I don't know much but I can read an article. I am not on Medicare, never been on Medicaid, but it doesn't matter because it is not mentioned in the article. Neither is insurance. I don't smoke, I am fit and take care of myself. My mother and father taught me about nutrition and my wife and I cooked healthy meals for our children. We don't drink to excess, eat to excess, as a matter of fact, the only excess in our lives is work. My wife routinely works 12 hours a day, I have two jobs because we feel it is necessary to prepare for our future and because of the seemingly increased burden of taking care of our fellow man, both charitably, and by theft from an increasingly intrusive and onerous government. When I read that a family of four in Montana can receive $29K a year in government benefits (more than possible with minimum wage) and the people I work with receive less than that, net (college degree required), yes, I chafe. I often wonder, why is it that people who are not required to do anything other than breathe, do not have to pay taxes on what they receive as well. People would do far better, regardless of income, if they simply took care of themselves.
  5. 4MT
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    4MT - September 10, 2013 7:36 am
    Poor Otis doesn't know how insurance works. He also doesn't understand how medicare works (which is what he probably uses). Tell me, why am I paying $3500 out of pocket for a broken wrist when I have insurance? Because people like Otis would prefer that those who are sick wait until their illness strikes them down because they simply can't afford to see a Dr. I'm sure he would also prefer that those who are sick just save us all money by just dying in the streets. Have you ever wondered why no other country has our healthcare system? I just read an article this morning about the happiest countries. Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland were at the top of the list. Geez, I guess not having to worry about dying in the streets due to no healthcare or filing bankruptcy really takes the stress away. Also knowing that you're going to get a first rate education paid for fully makes you a productive member of society. Yet all I hear from Americans is "yeah, but freedom"..uh huh. How free are we having to worry about losing everything when a illness hits?
  6. otis mule
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    otis mule - September 10, 2013 6:37 am
    Thanks, Flame for making my point. Taking care of others who will not care for themselves is an expensively stupid process. By the way, uncompensated care is done because the law says that nonprofit hospitals MUST care for everybody.
  7. FlamingLiberal1
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    FlamingLiberal1 - September 09, 2013 3:10 pm
    Oh, otis, I'm so sorry you believe that "your" health care dollars are unaffected by others' situations. Well, guess what? Ever been to the hospital and wonder why they charge six dollars for a dose of aspirin or eight dollars for a box of tissues? It's called "Uncompensated Care," and it absolutely affects what everyone else pays.
  8. otis mule
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    otis mule - September 06, 2013 6:13 am
    They're not "our health care dollars", they're my health care dollars. And you spending my tax money on somebody whose sole effort at taking care of him or herself is to let the government do it is not a wise expenditure of money. No matter how dedicated a public servant you are, you cannot make a person be responsible for himself. And until you succeed, you are wasting my money. For educational purposes, try reading "The Tragedy of the Commons". It was written a while ago but perfectly appropriate for today's situation.

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