Apr. 27 2012
Washington, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives has taken truly shortsighted action by voting to eliminate the Prevention and Public Health Fund in order to pay for legislation dealing with student loans. While preventing interest rates on federal student loans from increasing is important, Congress has many options to pay for such legislation without cutting the prevention fund.
It is irresponsible and unnecessary to pit helping college students against improving the nation's health and reducing health care costs.
Cutting the prevention fund is penny-wise and pound-foolish. The chronic diseases and unhealthy behaviors the prevention fund is intended to address impose tremendous costs on our health care system, on government budgets and on taxpayers. Tobacco use alone costs $96 billion a year in health care bills. The commitment to preventing disease, not just treating disease, is critical to reining in America's health care costs.
The value of investing in prevention has been demonstrated by several recent studies that found tobacco prevention and cessation programs save far more money than they cost by reducing tobacco-related health care and other costs.
For example, Washington State's comprehensive program to prevent tobacco use and help smokers quit saved more than $5 for every $1 spent by reducing hospitalizations for heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and cancer caused by tobacco use, according to a new study in the American Journal of Public Health. Massachusetts saved more than $3 for every $1 it spent helping beneficiaries enrolled in Medicaid to quit smoking, according to a George Washington University study. The study tracked hospital admissions for cardiovascular-related incidents, which fell dramatically among Medicaid patients who had used the tobacco cessation benefits.
Effective prevention will mean fewer premature deaths, less disease and more cost-effective health care spending, which is critical to reducing federal budget expenditures over the long term.
The Prevention and Public Health Fund represents a small fraction of what the nation spends on health care. We urge the Senate to preserve this critical fund when it takes up its own measure to address student loans. Congress should not undermine this modest investment's potential to prevent disease and reduce medical costs in the future.