Tuesday, June 9, 2009

By Jeff Levi, PhD, Executive Director of Trust for America's Health (TFAH)

Americans rank prevention as the most important health care reform priority, and overwhelmingly support increasing funding for prevention programs to reduce disease and keep people healthy.

In a new public opinion poll released today by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we found that Americans from coast to coast and across the political spectrum are overwhelmingly in favor of investing in disease prevention. They clearly see the value of prevention for reducing disease, improving quality of life, and lowering health care costs.

In the poll, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Public Opinion Strategies in May of 2009, 70 percent of Americans ranked investing in prevention between an eight and 10 on a scale of zero to ten, where zero means not at all an important health care priority and 10 means very important. Forty-six percent rated prevention as a 10 out of 10. Overall, prevention was rated higher than all other proposals tested, including providing tax credits to small businesses and prohibiting health insurers from denying coverage based on health status.

More than three-quarters of Americans (76 percent) said that they support increasing funding for prevention programs that provide people with information and resources and creating policies that help people make healthier choices. Investing in prevention is popular across the political spectrum, with 86 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of Republicans, and 70 percent of Independents supporting investing more in prevention.

For too long, health care has focused on treating people after they become sick instead of trying to help them stay healthy in the first place. This poll shows the American public strongly believes it’s time we shift from a sick care system to a true health care system that stresses disease prevention.

While Americans believe that prevention will save money (77 percent agree with the statement that “prevention will save us money”), they strongly support prevention regardless of its impact on costs. Rather, they point clearly to keeping people healthy as the best reason to invest in prevention, with 72 percent agreeing with the statement that “investing in prevention is worth it even if it doesn’t save us money, because it will prevent disease and save lives.” Additionally, 57 percent agree more with the statement “we should invest in prevention to keep people healthier and improve quality of life” than the statement “we should invest in prevention to lower health care costs” (21 percent agree).

Americans clearly see the value of the prevention for both saving money and reducing disease rates. And the research supports their belief. We know that strategic investments in disease prevention programs in communities can result in a big payoff in a short time -- reducing health care costs, increasing the productivity of the nation’s workforce, and helping people lead healthier lives.

According to the CDC, a vast majority of chronic diseases could be prevented through lifestyle and environmental changes. A study we did at the Trust for America’s Health last summer, entitled Prevention for a Healthier America: Investments in Disease Prevention Yield Significant Savings, Stronger Communities, found that for an investment in $10 per year per person in proven community-based programs to increase physical activity, improve nutrition, and prevent smoking and other tobacco use – which help make it easier for individuals to make healthy choices -- the country could save more than $16 billion annually within five years. This is a return of $5.60 for every $1 spent.

But, to get the returns that prevention offers, we need to make the investment. This includes creating a reliable, stable funding stream for public health, including providing enough resources for community-based disease prevention programs, ensuring that people have access to preventive health care benefits, and developing and implementing a national prevention strategy, so we make sure that resources are being well spent and are delivering real results toward improving our health.

Right now, high rates of chronic diseases are among the biggest drivers of U.S. health care costs. What this means in real terms is that Americans are not as healthy as they could be or should be – and that is translating into huge growth in health costs. And our workforce is less productive than it could be or should be to compete with the rest of the world.

It’s time to invest in keeping the country healthier and promote prevention – to make our country healthier, to make our health care system more cost-effective, and to make our economy more competitive.

More information about the poll can be found on the Trust for America’s Health Web site at: http://www.healthyamericans.org/.


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