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Take Action to Protect Prevention Funding - or We Will Pay in the Long Run

December 13, 2011 | Mary Pittman, DrPH | Dialogue4Health

As the curtain falls on 2011, Congress is struggling to complete its unfinished business, including finalizing the federal budget for 2012, and, once again, public health is being shortchanged. A recent payroll tax proposal released by House Republicans would cut the Prevention and Public Health Fund by 68% to avoid a scheduled 27% cut in payments to Medicare physicians.

While slashing current Medicare provider reimbursements would be devastating and could cause millions of low-income Americans to lose their healthcare provider, the proposed solution to gut the Prevention Fund to cover the cost is not only shortsighted and bad for the nation's health, it's fiscally irresponsible.

The Prevention Fund, established under the Affordable Care Act, is helping to tackle a significant threat to the country's fiscal security: chronic disease. Chronic conditions currently account for a whopping 75% of U.S healthcare costs--and we all pay the price. Families face skyrocketing insurance premiums; businesses experience diminished economic productivity and competitiveness; and governments must divert more and more funds to cover public healthcare programs (including Medicare) at the expense of other critical investments in job creation, education and more.

The Prevention Fund represents an unprecedented investment of federal resources to move the country off this unsustainable path of poor health. Through the Prevention Fund's Community Transformation Grants, for example, communities across the country are receiving vital funding to implement sound, evidence-based interventions to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, improve nutrition, and increase physical activity.

Like any good investment, prevention will pay off in the end. If we can create healthy communities and lower rates of chronic disease we will experience better health, increased productivity and lower healthcare costs. Getting costs under control is one of the most important things we can do to help ensure the long-term fiscal sustainability of vital healthcare programs, most notably Medicare, and strengthen our economy for the long-term.

The choice between investing in long-term prevention and paying Medicare doctors for the care they provide is a false one. A balanced, sensible approach is required to fix our healthcare system and return the nation to economic prosperity. Investing in prevention remains one of the most common sense, practical approaches to both.

I urge you to take action today and tell Congress to reject calls to use any portion of the Prevention Fund to address the Medicare "doc fix."

Mary Pittman, DrPH, is president and CEO of PHI.