Legislators and health experts are calling for a focus on preventative health services as part of health care reform while a new poll shows that an overwhelming number of Americans support increased funding for preventive health services.
Congressional Quarterly reports on the cost-effectiveness of chronic disease prevention programs, which was a topic emphasized at a health policy conference this week sponsored by the Center for Studying Health System Change. CQ noted that "prevention and early detection of chronic illnesses saves more lives per dollar spent than treating patients once they incur diseases" and that "the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 75 percent of health care spending in the United States goes to treating chronic diseases. A 2007 study by the think tank Milken Institute estimates that reducing unhealthy behaviors such as tobacco use and poor nutrition could prevent or delay 40 million cases of chronic illness by 2023." CQ also noted that not all preventive measures are equally cost-effective, pointing out that "the National Commission on Prevention Priorities conducted a study in 2006 identifying cost-effective clinical preventions with a high impact on health, with immunizations, smoking and alcohol counseling, and screening for cancers and cholesterol near the top of its list of suggested services."
Jason Spangler, managing senior fellow at the nonprofit research group Partnership for Prevention, said that "health overhaul legislation should embrace a shift toward preventing disease" including "making clinical preventive measures like cancer screenings and nutritional counseling more affordable by providing insurance coverage and reducing co-payments for those services" and "funding preventive services that are successfully provided outside of the clinical sector." Other public health advocates are calling for more money to be allocated to the CDC’s Healthy Communities program, which funds community-based initiatives that combat heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses. "The program’s two major outreach projects in 2009 provided about $58 million to localized initiatives, but supporters have recommended doubling the funding for CDC’s community programs in 2010" (Stephenson, 6/9)
Meanwhile, Modern Healthcare reports on a new poll that found "an overwhelming number of Americans support increased funding for preventive health services, which they see as a bridge to healthier living and lower overall healthcare costs." The telephone survey included over 1,000 registered voters and was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America's Health. It found that "77% of those polled believe that prevention will save money and they support efforts even it costs more at the outset.... with 86 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of Republicans and 70 percent of independents saying that more money should be invested in prevention" (DoBias, 6/8).
In light of the survey, the Deseret News reports that the "U.S. health-care system should get serious about reorienting away from expensive, specialized sick care and toward much cheaper and more effective programs to prevent health problems in the first place." The paper notes that "according to the poll and other recent best estimates, nearly $800 billion of the $2.4 trillion Americans spend on health care every year goes for treatment of health problems that are directly linked to lifestyle and poor health habits." The poll is available at: healthyamericans.org (Thalman, 6/9).
The Boston Globe points out the importance of investing in primary care: "Many health policy specialists believe that excellent primary care and strong relationships between patients and their doctors can prevent the overuse of expensive specialists and hospitals. At present, however, primary care accounts for a small and shrinking share of national spending on healthcare. Health policy specialists increasingly worry about a shortage of primary care doctors because medical students are increasingly choosing higher-paying speciality work instead. Neal said Obama spoke about providing financial incentives to primary care doctors, such as help with student loans" (Wangsness, 6/9).