By almost all accounts, this country stands ready to redouble its work on wellness promotion and illness prevention. As health reform bills begin to roll out, its clear that this is going to be one area where Congress plans to vigorously attack healthcare costs.
More than an ounce of prevention
There’s value, wisdom in the push for wellness, but commitment must be sustained
Some recent developments:
This sure sounds like consensus to us. Plenty of smart people and organizations see the opportunity to reduce costs by eliminating as much need for sick care as possible.
Tell that to the states. Nationwide, thanks to the recession and, in many cases, their own missteps in leadership, state legislatures are confronting ugly budget shortfalls. And what are some areas being targeted for cuts? Social services and public health, including prevention and wellness.
California, confronting its $24 billion-plus deficit, is threatening a raft of budget cuts targeting public health and prevention programs. Those actions might culminate with scrapping the State Childrens Health Insurance Program (June 1, p. 17).
The Golden State certainly isnt alone. Illinois lawmakers, having rejected an income tax increase to close a $12 billion budget gap, are scrambling to avoid whats being dubbed a doomsday budget that would whack public health and social services. New York also took a knife to healthcare and social services to help close its $17.9 billion shortfall for fiscal 2010.
The list goes on. States are dealing with a cumulative shortfall of more than $280 billion, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. While its clear that tough decisions have to be made, the destruction of programs designed to keep the populace healthy and prevent even larger costs down the road isnt just shortsighted decisionmakingits shamefully bad public policy.
Lawmakers need to take a look at the sheer cost-savings that investment in prevention could deliver. Taking a closer look at the Commonwealth Fund report, wellness/prevention efforts, including incentives and disincentives to fight obesity, could lead to as much as $583 billion in total savings to the healthcare system. Meanwhile, a wide variety of estimates on overall national costs of obesity put the annual total in excess of $100 billion annually.
As this page has pointed out, wellness is a job to be shared. Its equal parts public policy, corporate strategy and personal responsibility. We all need to invest time and energy in our health. Investment, both by government and the private sector, also will pay off. But the efforts need to be broad, they need to be innovative, and above all, they must be sustained.
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