Saturday, March 28, 2009

This podcast features an interview with Danny McGoldrick, Vice President for Research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. His organization recently teamed up with Partnership for Prevention and the United Health Foundation to launch an initiative aimed at American businesses. At a time of deep economic decline, this team is working to show businesses some proven ways to improve their bottom lines – by adopting tobacco-free policies in the workplace and by supporting tobacco-free policies in their communities. Listen by clicking on the media player below.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Koh Nomination a Solid Choice

President Obama's nomination of Dr. Howard Koh to serve as the Assistant Secretary for Health should get enthusiastic support from the public health and prevention communities.

As Commissioner of Public Health for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from 1997-2003, Dr. Koh oversaw four public health hospitals and a staff of over 3000 professionals. In this capacity, he emphasized the power of prevention and strengthened the state’s commitment to eliminating health disparities. He was involved in establishing and then overseeing the groundbreaking Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program.

Dr. Koh is currently the Harvey V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health, Associate Dean for Public Health Practice, and Director of the Division of Public Health Practice at the Harvard School of Public Health. A major focus of his research has been on community-based strategies to reduce cancer disparities and promote cancer prevention and early detection. As Director of the Harvard School of Public Health Center for Public Health Preparedness (HSPH-CPHP), he has promoted education about bioterrorism, pandemic influenza, and other emerging health threats.

“Howard Koh is a world-renowned expert on public health and cancer, and his tenure as commissioner of public health for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts gives him the hands-on experience needed to address the challenges facing those on the front lines of our private and public health care systems,” said Dr. Corinne G. Husten, interim president of Partnership for Prevention. “Partnership for Prevention enthusiastically supports Dr. Koh’s nomination and we look forward to working with him to make prevention a focal point of efforts to reform our health system.”

CBO Numbers Shake Up Health Reform Debate

have produced the tremors that could re-open the fault lines along the road to health reform. ast week’s estimates by the CBO on the proposed Obama budget. The CBO said the budget would produce a nearly $9.3 trillion deficit over the next decade and increase budget deficits to more than 4% of GDP each year over the next decade.

"Still stunned from that report, and under immense pressure from moderates in the Democratic party to cut spending, both the House and Senate Budget chairs have made it clear they intend to reduce the Obama budget and see the Congress proceed with health care reform following the pay-go rules.," Laskewski writes. "That would mean any new health care reform spending over the next ten years needs to be offset with either cuts to existing spending or with new revenue."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Indiana University Center for Health Policy has issued findings from a comprehensive review of existing research about the health and economic impact of smokefree workplace laws. It's designed to clear up some of the confusion created by contradictory studies that flood the offices of lawmakers and policymakers. Among the findings:

  • While secondhand smoke has been definitively linked to many kinds of health problems, the most significant health consequence related to secondhand smoke is death
  • Smokefree workplace laws do not have a negative economic impact on restaurants and bars
  • Smokefree workplaces save employers money.
  • Servers, bartenders, dealers and other workers in restaurants, bars and casinos may regularly be exposed to high levels of secondhand smoke.

The recent controversy over the pope's declaration that condoms could make the AIDS epidemic worse, not better, in Africa, prompted RTI Chief Scientist Douglas Kamerow to take a stab at closing the chasm between Catholic orthodoxy and public health science.

"One possible approach to the seemingly irresolvable conflict between condoms and religious dictums might be to separate the disease prevention attributes of condoms from their contraceptive effect," Kamerow, a former assistant surgeon general, writes in BMJ.

"There is precedent for this, at least in the United States: many Catholic hospitals and doctors here prescribe oral contraceptives to women not to prevent pregnancy but instead to prevent heavy, painful periods," he continues. "So it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to imagine the Catholic church tacitly condoning condom use as part of an overall disease prevention programme to decrease the spread of HIV, even if only within marriages."

Kamerow notes that much of the spread of the AIDS epidemic in Africa occurs within marriage, making the pope's encouragement of abstinence a moot point in such cases.

"If condoms are not available, these women are forced to make the impossible choice between refusing to have sex with their husbands (and risking abuse) or consenting to sex (and risking HIV infection)," he concluded.

Pricing Life

Princeton economics professor Uwe E. Reinhardt offers some interesting views in the New York Times' Economix blog about the use of Quality of Additional Life Years as a mechanism to gauge the cost-effectiveness of medical interventions.

"A medical intervention yielding a given number of additional life-years in perfect health makes a greater contribution to human well-being than an intervention that yields the same number of life-years in less-than-perfect health," Reinhardt writes. "QALYs are used to adjust for that difference in a patient’s quality of life."

That would appear to make a case for prevention measures aimed at keeping people healthier throughout the life span.

"Cheap interventions might be immunization for infectious diseases, which might save a large number of QALYs at relatively low cost," he wrote. "...Expensive interventions might involve new biological specialty drugs costing $100,000 or more per treatment that might add only a month or two to a terminally ill person’s life, or even low-cost diagnostic tests that do not detect much illness because they are applied to low-risk populations.

Ultimately, he says, reformers face two vexing questions: "Is there a maximum price per quality-adjusted life year (or life-month or life-day) beyond which society will not buy additional QALYs from the health system?" and "If there is a maximum price, should it be the same for all members of society – rich or poor, prominent or not...?"

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, used a White House regional forum on health reform this week to make a strong case for prevention and wellness initiatives and then elaborated on his plans in a meeting with editors for the Des Moines Register.

Harkin, who is helping write wellness portions of the Senate version of the health-reform bill, said at the Iowa forum that the government should provide better foods in schools and should build walking paths to encourage exercise. He also said doctors should be rewarded for keeping their patients well, as opposed to the current system in which they are paid mainly for treating them after they become sick.

In a meeting Monday with Register editors and reporters, Harkin added that he would favor charging higher health-insurance premiums to people who smoke or are obese. Such people also ought to receive help and encouragement to improve their habits, he said: "I think there ought to be both a carrot and stick."

"Harkin brushed aside reports questioning whether wellness programs would provide savings to the system," the Register reported. He acknowledged that his proposals would add some costs, but he predicted savings would start quickly: "'I don't mean in 10 years, I mean in the next two or three years, we'll see this start to decline.'"

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Stories on Screening Show Troubling Trend

Over at Nieman Reports, the Health News Review's Gary Schwitzer notes that his organization's ongoing review of health journalism has detected a troubling trend in reporting about screening tests.

"In many news reports—including some done by major news organizations—a crusading advocacy seems to exist when it comes to promoting screening tests," Schweitzer writes. "And this happens even when such guidance conflicts with the best medical evidence."

Schweitzer, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism & Mass Communication, says such reporting may be well-intentioned, but can do more harm than good.

"These pro-screening crusades often promote costly approaches, such as CT scans of the heart or of the lungs or of the full body, which convince many new “worried well” people to enter the health care system, costing them and all of us dearly," he says.

Obama, Pope Win Best/Worst Idea Honors

President Obama's announcement of steps to improve food safety was named Best Prevention Idea of the Week, while Pope Benedict XVI's admonition to Africans that condoms won't help - and could make worse - the continent's problem with AIDS was named Worst Prevention Idea of the Week.

The Best/Worst honors are a regular feature of Prevention Matters (, the blog of Partnership for Prevention. Each week, Partnership for Prevention's staff will choose the designees based on nominations of items in the previous week’s news submitted by members, staff and the public at large. To submit a nomination or for more information, contact Damon Thompson at .


In his weekly address to the nation, President Obama said he is forming a Food Safety Working Group to "upgrade our food safety laws for the 21st century," He said he also will ask Congress for $1 billion in new funds to add inspectors and modernize laboratories, and announced that the Agriculture Department is moving ahead with a rule change banning all sick or disabled cattle from entering the food supply.


Pope Benedict XVI said condoms are not the answer to the AIDS epidemic in Africa and can make the problem worse, setting off criticism Tuesday as he began a weeklong trip to the continent where some 22 million people are living with HIV. It was Benedict's first statement on an issue that has divided even Catholic clergy working with AIDS patients.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Aspirin not only relieves aches and pains, but it can also help prevent heart attacks and strokes. There is some confusion over exactly who should use aspirin to help their hearts and how they should use it. The U.S.Preventive Services Task Force has issued new recommendations to help doctors and consumers. Discussing these recommendations is Dr. Nieca Goldberg, associate professor of medicine at New York University and a member of Partnership for Prevention's Task Force for Appropriate Aspirin Use. Click on the media player directly below to listen to the podcast.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s declaration that health care reform should start with a focus on changing unhealthy behaviors was declared the Best Prevention Idea of the Week, while the Maryland state government’s decision to spend less on anti-tobacco programs is the Worst Prevention Idea of the Week.

The Best/Worst honors are a regular feature of Prevention Matters. Each week, Partnership for Prevention's staff will choose the designees based on nominations of items in the previous week’s news submitted by members, staff and the public at large. To submit a nomination or for more information, contact Damon Thompson at .


Improving the quality and access to health care in Michigan should start with efforts to reform behavior, like a ban on smoking in the workplace and mandatory exercise for school children, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich told a state senate health policy panel this week.

Gingrich, the former Republican congressman who now heads the Center for Health Transformation, said policymakers, the public and the media often make the mistake of viewing health care reform primarily as a financial challenge, rather than a complex mix of individual behavior, cultural influence and uneven quality.

Expanding access to health care and improving citizens’ health won’t happen by changing the financial model, he said.

“If all you do is try to figure out how to finance the current system, you’ll go broke,” Gingrich said. “The current system is stunningly wasteful.”

Gingrich appeared before the state Senate Health Policy Committee as part of a health-care related trip to Michigan.

Much of his testimony focused on the need to find ways to change behavior, especially in the state’s poorest communities. Government can encourage healthier eating and living by providing financial and tax incentives, such as providing a food stamp bonus to recipients who purchase more fruits and vegetables, he said.


The state of Maryland is doling out less money for anti-tobacco programs this year, which may cause county health departments to scale back their smoking-cessation efforts.

Since 2000, Anne Arundel county has been using a grant from the state's cigarette-restitution fund to pay for a variety of free programs, including brochures, smoking-cessation classes and anti-smoking education programs in schools.

Early estimates show funding for these programs could be reduced by nearly 70 percent.

Officials said they wanted to make sure there was as little impact as possible on programs dealing with youth and communities. They don't expect to hear just how much money they'll receive until April.

Recommendations from the Business Roundtable

The Business Roundtable report that compared U.S. health care expenditures and benefits with those of other countries concluded with a couple of recommendations worth noting.

The report recommended “engaging all Americans in taking an active role in their health care. First, this means placing an obligation on all Americans to obtain health insurance either through their employer or the private market. Second, we must encourage all Americans to participate in employer- or community-based prevention, wellness and chronic care programs.”

These happen to be two of the Healthy Workforce 2010 recommendations that are included in Healthy Workforce 2010: The Essential Health Promotion Sourcebook for Employers, Large and Small published by Partnership for Prevention published in 2001.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

US Gets Less Value for Its Health Care Dollar

A new report from the Business Roundtable, which represents CEOs of major companies, says America's health care system has become a liability in a global economy. The report says Americans in 2006 spent $1,928 per capita on health care, at least two-and-a-half times more per person than any other advanced country.

The report added a new wrinkle by taking those those costs and factoring benefits into the equation. It compares statistics on life expectancy, death rates and even cholesterol readings and blood pressures. The health measures are factored together with costs into a 100-point "value" scale. That hasn't been done before, the authors said.

The results - the United States is 23 points behind five leading economic competitors: Canada, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom and France. The five nations cover all their citizens, and though their systems differ, in each country the government plays a much larger role than in the U.S.
The cost-benefit disparity is even wider — 46 points — when the U.S. is compared with emerging competitors: China, Brazil and India.

Gingrich Gets It

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told Michigan legislators this week that their efforts to improve the health care system should start with a focus on reforming behavior, like a ban on smoking in the workplace and mandatory exercise for school children.

Gingrich, who now heads the Center for Health Transformation, said policymakers, the public and the media often make the mistake of viewing health care reform primarily as a financial challenge, rather than a complex mix of individual behavior, cultural influence and uneven quality.

“If all you do is try to figure out how to finance the current system, you’ll go broke,” he told the state Senate Health Policy Committee. “The current system is stunningly wasteful.”

He said government can encourage healthier eating and living by providing financial and tax incentives, such as providing a food stamp bonus to recipients who purchase more fruits and vegetables, he said.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Wal-Mart continues to show how it can be a change-maker in the health world by virtue of its ability to distribute products at a high-volume for low prices. The New York Times says the world's largest retailer, which already has introduced $4 generic prescriptions and over-the-counter tobacco cessation kits priced below $10, is now working to provide electronic health records technology that will be affordable for physicians working in small offices.

"The company plans to team its Sam’s Club division with Dell for computers and eClinicalWorks, a fast-growing private company, for software," writes the Times' Steve Lohr. "...The Sam’s Club offering, to be made available this spring, will be under $25,000 for the first physician in a practice, and about $10,000 for each additional doctor. After the installation and training, continuing annual costs for maintenance and support will be $4,000 to $6,500 a year, the company estimates."

The Obama administration's plan provides financial incentives of more than $40,000 per physician over a few years, to install and use electronic health records. Only about 17 percent of the nation’s physicians currently use computerized patient records. About 200,000 health care providers, mostly doctors, are among Sam Club’s 47 million members.

A healthier workforce and a healthier community is smart business, because it makes for a healthier bottom line. That’s why Partnership for Prevention, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and United Health Foundation collaborated to develop a new resource to help businesses lower their costs by reducing the use of tobacco in the workplace.

The “toolkit,” entitled “Investing in A Tobacco-Free Future: How it Benefits Your Bottom Line & Community,” highlights the many gains from implementing tobacco control programs and policies. You can download the toolkit and get more information at

A multi-pronged approach is a win-win that works. Adopting a tobacco-free workplace policy not only improves the health of all workers exposed to secondhand smoke, but also cuts business expenses related to fire and property insurance costs. Providing health benefits that include access to services to help people quit their tobacco use is cost effective to implement and yields healthier employees who spend less on health care. Comprehensive tobacco-use treatment generally includes three components – screening by health professionals, counseling that can be in-person or via phone quitlines and pharmacy support that can include over-the-counter and prescription medication.

It’s also smart business to support proven state and local public policy solutions to drive down smoking rates and increase community well-being and health. Initiatives like smoke-free workplace laws, higher tobacco taxes and well-funded tobacco prevention and cessation programs are all effective strategies to save lives and reduce health care costs – a worthy goal for all.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Divvying up the Prevention Pie

In 2008, states received $17.60 per person on average from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to spend on disease prevention and health promotion. But a new report from the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows that the difference in funding to individual states differed by as much as $40 per resident.

Alaska received the most funding from CDC of any state at $52.78 per person in FY 2008, while Indiana received the least at $12.74. The report shows that Midwestern and Southern states received less funding from the federal government than Northeastern and Western states.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Time to Update School Nutrition Standards

Thirty years ago, the Carter Administration set standards to ensure that foods sold in schools had at least 5% of an essential nutrient, like protein, Vitamin C or calcium. But the standards, still in effect, do nothing to limit fat, calories or sodium.

But that could change this year, as Congress must reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act with an amendment by U.S. Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., and support from the Obama administration, 88 other members of Congress and a host of public health organizations including Partnership for Prevention. The new legislation would have the U.S. Department of Agriculture update the nutrition standards for foods sold alongside school meals in cafeterias, vending machines, school stores, and elsewhere. Those standards would apply throughout the school day, and everywhere on campus.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A creative contest that helped pay for a New England high school’s prom in return for student’s pledges not to tan for it was named the Best Prevention Idea of the Week, while an amendment passed by the U.S. Senate gutting the District of Columbia’s ability to restrict the use of firearms was named the Worst Prevention Idea of the Week.

The Best/Worst honors are a regular feature of Prevention Matters. Each week, Partnership for Prevention's staff will choose the designees based on nominations of items in the previous week’s news submitted by members, staff and the public at large. To submit a nomination or for more information, contact Damon Thompson at


High School Wins $1,000 for Not Tanning

Over 500 Waltham, MA, High School students promised not to tan for this year's prom - and it paid off. As part of the Your Skin is In contest, the school won $1,000 from the Melanoma Foundation of New England to use toward the spring dance. The nonprofit, dedicated to education about early detection and prevention of melanoma, asked students across New England to sign a no-tanning pledge. Schools that got at least 70 percent of their prom-going class to sign the pledge were entered into a raffle with a chance to win $1,000 or $500 in prizes and tickets to Six Flags New England. Over 5,500 students across New England signed the pledge. Schools that got at least 70 percent of their prom-going class to sign the pledge were entered into a raffle with a chance to win $1,000 or $500 in prizes and tickets to Six Flags New England. Over 5,500 students across New England signed the pledge.


Senate approves amendment gutting DC gun restrictions

District of Columbia residents would have far greater access to firearms, including semiautomatic weapons, under a measure approved recently by the U.S. Senate. The 62-36 vote was a victory for the pro-gun lobby which has waged a lengthy battle against the tough antigun laws imposed by the district on its residents. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., offered the measure as an amendment to legislation giving the district a vote in the House of Representatives. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, in protesting the amendment, said it would allow D.C. residents to cross state lines to buy handguns in neighboring states and would repeal the district's ban on military-style weapons, including sniper rifles that can pierce armor plating. It would lower from 21 to the federal limit of 18 the age when people can possess handguns and ease the district's registration requirements.

The recently enacted American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes substantial funding for health and public health. Among other things, it provides $650 million to be spent on wellness and prevention activities, $500 million for health and public health manpower, and $1.1 billion for comparative effectiveness research. The challenge for policy makers is now to determine how to make the best use of these dollars. That is the topic of our discussion today, in which Partnership for Prevention Interim President Corinne G. Husten, MD, MPH talks with Dr. Jonathan Fielding and Dr. Michael McGinnis. Dr. Fielding is the Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and chairs the United States Task Force on Community Preventive Services, and he is also Chairman of the Board of Partnership for Prevention. Dr. McGinnis is a senior scholar at the Institute of Medicine and the founder of the Healthy People national health objectives movement. Listen by clicking on the player below.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Connecting the Dots on Richard Scott

Politico reported yesterday that former Columbia/Hospital Corporation of America CEO Richard Scott is leading a conservative group to block healthcare reform. The group, called Conservatives for Patients Rights, is launching a multimillion-dollar campaign in opposition to government-run coverage, and that Scott himself is putting $5 million into the effort.

Over at Health Beat, Maggie Mahar gives us more details about Scott's past contributions to the health care system:

"Internal hospital records would later show that hospital executives were paid enormous bonuses, not for reducing infections or lowering mortality rates, but for meeting financial targets such as 'growth in admissions and surgery cases.' In 1995 one-fourth of Columbia’s administrators won bonuses equaling 80 percent of their salaries—or more. When bonuses become that large, some critics charge, they no longer function simply as incentives. They invite fraud. Scott also did his best to avoid needy patients, questioning whether hospitals should throw their doors open to one and all.

"...In July of 1997, the FBI swooped down on HCA hospitals in five states. Within weeks, three executives were indicted on charges of Medicare fraud, and the board had ousted Scott. The investigation revealed that the hospital chain had been bilking Medicare while simultaneously handing over kickbacks and perks to physicians who steered patients to its hospitals. One can only wonder how many of those patients really needed to be hospitalized—and how many were harmed.

"The company did not fight the charges. In 2000, HCA (which by then had expunged “Columbia” from its name) pleaded guilty to no fewer than 14 felonies. Over the next two years, it would pay a total of $1.7 billion in criminal and civil fines."

The Philadelphia Inquirer quotes Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and one of the most influential voices in Washington on health care, as promising to introduce comprehensive health-care legislation in June, "certainly before the chamber's August recess."

"He said that he planned to introduce a bipartisan bill with Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R., Iowa) that would adopt a mix of public and private solutions and that he hoped 70 senators would approve it."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Representative Todd Platts (R-PA) this week will introduce the “Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.” This bipartisan legislation would give the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco products and to provide ongoing oversight to protect the public’s health.

"Tobacco is the deadliest product on the market today, killing almost 400,000 Americans every yearm," said Corinne G. Husten, MD, MPH, interim president of Partnership for Prevention. "Yet, it is one of the least regulated consumer products. It is long past time for tobacco products to be regulated to save more lives and protect the public’s health."

One significant provision in the bill would require makers of tobacco products that are marketed as safer than other tobacco products to demonstrate their claims. Millions of Americans were convinced to switch to low-tar cigarettes believing they reduced their risk of lung cancer. Many years later, low-tar cigarettes were found to be just as harmful as full-tar. Many deaths could have been prevented if this information had been known and people were encouraged to quit smoking instead.

"Partnership calls on the full House, which overwhelmingly approved a similar bill last July, to quickly pass this legislation," Husten said. "The sooner this legislation becomes law, the sooner we can save more lives and reduce health care costs."

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Appearing on ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos, Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag said President Obama is willing to consider the idea of a health-care board or commission that would de-politicize the process by taking some power from Congress. Orszag also said the president is so determined to get health-care reform passed this year that he would propose another revenue source if Congress blocked some of the ideas in his current plan.

It's Sebelius

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has put all speculation to rest and agreed to be President Obama's nominee as Secretary of Health and Human Services. The deal was announced in the Sunday news outlets, and the formal announcement will be made Monday afternoon, prior to this week's White House summit on helath reform

Sebelius has received a lot of ink about her efforts as state insurance commissioner to hold down premium rates, and for her cost-containment efforts as governor. But she also launched the HealthyKansas initiative in November 2004 to promote prevention and wellness. The initiative is a comprehensive effort to control health care costs, improve the quality health care and raise awareness of the dangers of obesity in children and adults.

Encouraging use of medical services – and discouraging use of services without evidence of effectiveness – will be critical to improving the performance of our health system and to controlling healthcare costs. A New York Times editorial rightly gives Medicare credit for proposing not to cover virtual colonoscopies since they are believed to be less effective at discovering small polyps than standard optical colonoscopies.

The quasi-governmental U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and Task Force on Community Preventive Services – the groups charged with evaluating the effectiveness of clinical and community-based preventive services – have been leaders in the movement toward evidence-based medicine. They have carefully identified those preventive services that are proven to be effective. Where there is evidence that preventive services are ineffective, or where there is simply insufficient evidence to even render a judgment, the task forces say so.

Decision-makers across the health system should follow the lead of the Medicare program and provide coverage of proven services while discouraging use of services of uncertain benefit. This is an important first step in moving toward a health system that provides high quality and ensures that our health dollars are spent wisely.