Guest post: The Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund

Guest post by Michael Cahill

The Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund: Why it needs to succeed for America’s Economic Future

What will it take for the Affordable Care, known more commonly as Obamacare, to succeed? Realistically speaking it will take a lot of things for the ACA to be a real success, but one vital area will be managing America’s chronic health problem. This is where Prevention and Public Health Fund comes it. Never heard of it before? Well let’s start with a little background.

The fund was established when the Care Act was signed into law back in 2010. It’s mission is to fund projects aimed at improving American public health. For example outreach programs about healthy food options, walking and biking infrastructure projects, or increasing access to blood pressure screenings at the dentist’s office.

Before the sequester the fund was supposed to invest $15 billion during its first 10 years. But Republican lawmakers have slashed its budget by 40 percent since last year. Now the fund is also being victimized by the Department of Health and Human Services who announced plans in April to withdraw $454 million from the fund.

That money for the HHS will pay for outreach efforts concerning the federal health insurance exchanges being established in the majority of states. The move to withdraw the money from the fund was in response to Republicans repeating blocking funding requests from the HHS. When the news of the withdrawal by the HHS was announced the balance of the fund stood at $949 million.

So getting back to the mission of the fund, it’s probably no news to you that we Americans have a health problem. Specifically in the realm of preventable chronic diseases. Rates of heart disease and other obesity related illnesses are on the rise, and will cost the country dearly if they’re not dealt with.

The United States spends $2.7 trillion every year on healthcare, which is the highest in the world. That’s nearly 17 percent GDP. Compared to the country with next highest spending, Switzerland, which spends less than 12 percent of their GDP on healthcare.

Of that $2.7 trillion, 70 percent is spent on treating chronic disease, while only 3 percent goes towards disease prevention. Let that sink in, 70 percent of $2.7 trillion, that’s $1.8 trillion dollars. All that money goes toward treating chronic health issues, many of which could have been prevented through better lifestyle choices.

That $2.7 trillion is expected to keep going up and up. The HHS estimates that by 2017 health care spending will be almost 20 percent of United States GDP.

So what’s the solution here? Well if the Affordable Care Act aims to provide near universal health insurance to Americans something needs to be done about our chronic disease problem. It’s not hard to imagine it getting so out of control expensive that it crashes the system.

Which is where the Prevention Fund comes in. Without getting at the heart of the problem and helping people make healthier choices, which prevent these diseases from happening in the first place, the problem will get worse and worse.

So far the Prevention fund has already paid out $290 million to local governments, but the outlook is not good if lawmakers keep dipping into the fund and slashing its budget.

Of course the Prevention Fund is not the one stop solution to America’s health problems. It will still take individuals making the right decisions when it comes to their health. But it’s a start, and essential to the success of the Affordable Care Act in the long term.

(Michael Cahill is Editor of the Vista Health Solutions blog. He has a degree in Journalism from SUNY New Paltz and previously worked as a reporter for the Poughkeepsie Journal and an editor for the Rockland County Times. Follow him on Twitter at @VistaHealth and @ElectronicMike)