Federal and state spending on public health programs are insufficient and inconsistent state to state, and put the nation at risk for unchecked preventable diseases and inadequate epidemic management, according to a new report from the not-for-profit healthcare-advocacy group Trust for Americas Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The report Shortchanging Americas Health: A State-by-State Look at How Federal Public Health Dollars Are Spent found that the public health system is currently underfunded by $20 billion annually, and that federal, state and local health departments are unable to carry out many of the disease-prevention programs and health-emergency preparation activities needed to keep the country safe from epidemic levels of sickness. Whats more, the economic downturn has forced state and local governments to cut more than 11,000 public-health jobs in recent months, and another 10,000 are at risk for being eliminated.
Health departments around the country are struggling mightily as a result of the cuts, said Robert Pestronk, executive director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, during a news conference. The job cuts mean contaminated food at restaurants will go undetected due to inspection reductions; communities will lose the ability to track and prevent the spread of infectious diseases effectively; and states will have to choose between immunization programs and treating infectious diseases, Pestronk added.
The report also found that per-capita funding of public-health services varied widely state to state, with Alaska receiving nearly $53 per person in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funds in 2008, and Indiana receiving less than $13 per person from the agency. State funding was even more varied, with Nevada allocating just under $4 per capita on public health programs and Hawaii spending more than $172 per person.
While the report suggested that the $1 billion allocated to public health spending through the recently enacted stimulus package will help plug some funding holes, officials said additional attention needs to be given to shoring up the public health system. We still dont know exactly how this money will go into the community, said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for Americas Health. This is a critical investment, but its also a one-time investment. We need to find a stable source of funding for public-health programs.