Fund to prevent people from getting sick is at risk

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Despite tremendous improvements in the 20th century, the U.S. is still far from being the healthiest nation. According to a recent Commonwealth Fund report, we spend far more on health care than any other high-income country, but our lives are shorter and less healthy.

We must treat those who are sick and injured. But to become a healthier nation, we must also invest in prevention and in wellness to keep people from becoming sick in the first place. The Prevention and Public Health Fund — a key part of the Affordable Care Act — is a unique program doing just that.

The fund — our nation’s largest single investment in prevention — has provided more than $6 billion since 2010 to support a variety of public health activities in every state. This includes initiatives 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 prevented over 17,000 premature deaths caused by tobacco use.

And the Preventive Health and Health Services Block Grant has helped states reach healthy milestones, including reducing prescription drug abuse in Arkansas, preventing long-term disability from stroke in Georgia, stopping a food-borne outbreak from spreading in Missouri, and reducing teen drinking in Wisconsin.

Here in Kentucky, we have received over $23 million from the fund, as found in Trust for America’s Health’s state PPHF fact sheets. This has provided much-needed funding in Kentucky to support breast and cervical cancer screenings, reduce tobacco use, provide grants to reduce diabetes and obesity, and suicide prevention initiatives and training. It has also provided funding for Kentucky to be better prepared for disease response and capacity and immunization services.

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 create healthier communities, schools, workplaces and homes by making healthy living easier.

All of this progress, however, is at risk.

Congress has taken the first steps to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and with it the prevention fund. Repealing the fund would result in a major loss for core public-health programs.

The fund makes up more than 12 percent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual budget and is integral to helping states, including Kentucky, keep communities healthy and safe. Eliminating it would make it much harder for our local health departments to prevent disease and injuries.

The message to Sens. Mitch McConnell and RandPaul is clear: Maintain the Prevention and Public Health Fund so we can invest in prevention and well-being, and restrain the growth of health care costs as Congress originally intended.

In doing so, we will make Kentucky a healthier place to live, work, play and pray.

M. Aaron Guest is a University of Kentucky doctoral student and a member of the American Public Health Association Executive Board.