Congress Should Support Fund that Prevents Disease and Saves Lives

lamar-hasbrouck-headshot-2015The following article was originally published in The Hill. View the original article

By LaMar Hasbrouck, MD, MPH

In 1736 Benjamin Franklin said “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In 2010 Congress followed this wise advice and created the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF), which has invested nearly $5.25 billion to prevent people from falling victim to infectious and chronic diseases that are the leading causes of disability and death in the United States.

It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to end this valuable life-saving initiative, but that’s exactly what’s happening today. The PPHF is threatened with elimination by some in Congress who want to shut down the fund in a misguided attempt to save money.

Through the budget reconciliation process, the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Budget Committee in the House of Representatives have already approved cutting $15.6 billion in PPHF funding through Fiscal Year 2025. Unfortunately, the full House is likely to take the same action in coming days.

But wiping out funding for the PPHF will not save money – it will cost money, and lots of it. This is because it costs far less to prevent people from getting sick than to treat them after they’ve become sick.

Today half of all U.S. adults have one or more chronic health condition and more than 75 percent of all healthcare spending goes to care for preventable non-contagious diseases. For example, the annual cost of treating heart diseases and stroke is an estimated $315 billion and the annual cost of treating diabetes is $176 billion nationwide. And those aren’t the only chronic health conditions.

By preventing or delaying the onset of illnesses for just some of the millions of Americans affected, the PPHF can save billions of dollars in treatment costs every year, dwarfing the investment it would take to keep the fund operating.

And the PPHF is not just about saving money, of course, but about helping millions of Americans lead healthier, longer, more satisfying and more productive lives. On top of this, our nation is stronger and more secure when more people are healthy, working, paying taxes and helping our economy grow.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) receives most of the funding from the PPHF and passes much of the money on to state and local health departments in the form of grants. In fact, the PPHF funding accounts for 13 percent of the CDC’s budget.

Just over half of PPHF funds distributed by the CDC pay for programs to prevent chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. For example, one program reduces the development of type 2 diabetes by helping people at risk make healthy lifestyle choices to lose weight and control their blood sugar levels.

The PPHF also supports:

  • Vaccinations for uninsured and at-risk populations to prevent many diseases and protect the broader population from contagious diseases.
  • Block grants to state health departments for a broad range of prevention programs that support local communities. Examples include programs for our growing senior citizen population, to prevent drug and alcohol abuse by teenagers, to prevent people from starting smoking and help smokers quit, and to train health department staff members with good government techniques and strategies to better serve their communities.
  • A program to remove lead paint from older homes to prevent children from getting lead poisoning, which slows brain development and may cause behavioral problems in school and in adulthood. While lead paint became illegal nationally in 1978, the CDC estimates there are at least 4 million U.S. households with children who are being exposed to high levels of lead.
  • Grants to strengthen the ability of state and local health departments to rapidly detect, track and respond to infectious disease threats, thereby reducing the spread of disease and protecting the public.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), where I serve as executive director, is one of more than 900 state and national organizations that support continued funding for the PPHF. NACCHO represents the 2,800 local health departments across the United States that work every day to build safer and healthier futures for the American people.

The Prevention and Public Health Fund makes sense economically, medically and ethically. It saves money, prevents illnesses and save lives. Continuing funding for the PPHF merits bipartisan support because it is neither conservative nor liberal – it is just common sense.

If Ben Franklin were alive today, he’d likely respond to the threat to PPHF funding with an old saying he published in “Poor Richard’s Almanack”: “Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish.” The wisdom of centuries past still holds true.

Hasbrouck is executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). He has public health experience at the local, state, national and international level, including serving as director of the Illinois Department of Public Health; public health director in Ulster County, New York; a member of the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and a faculty member at three medical schools.

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