By Hillary Hanson, Alicia Thompson, Ellen Leahy, Melanie Reynolds
The United States is having a furious debate about how best to address the nation’s financial problems. A variety of proposals have been suggested, but we need to be careful. Making poor decisions now could result in even worse problems down the road.
This is the case with proposed cuts to federal funds for preventive health programs in Montana.
Do you remember Benjamin Franklin’s quote, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? This is precisely the case with preventive health care. Any short-term savings gained by making cuts to prevention programs would be erased by much higher health care costs in the very near future.
It’s common sense: Preventing serious illness costs less than treating it. Preventing disease outbreaks via immunizations costs less than treating hundreds or thousands of seriously ill people. Paying for public health programs and services is the smart solution.
Yet, some members of Congress have proposed cutting funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Resources and Services Administration and the Prevention and Public Health Fund, all of which support vital prevention programs in Montana communities.
In Montana, this funding helps pay for programs to immunize children; prevent and reduce cancer, heart disease and diabetes; prevent and screen for birth defects and developmental disabilities; prevent and prepare for disease outbreaks and disasters; reduce tobacco use; monitor cases of HIV/AIDS; and research and collect community health data.
As public health professionals working in Montana communities, we see daily the difference such funding makes in the lives of individuals and our communities. Our state is making great progress in reducing chronic disease such as cancer. And yet nearly everyone is touched by cancer — either personally or with a loved one. Can you imagine creating a budget that results in more cancer cases?
We don’t want to lose ground. In some respects, we have a long way to go. Montana ranks near the bottom of the nation when it comes to child immunizations, for example.
Cuts also will increase the economic toll disease takes on our state economy. Already, the cost of treating chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease in Montana is nearly $1 billion a year. These diseases also result in $3.1 billion in lost productivity annually in our state.
On the other hand, Benjamin Franklin was right: Prevention costs less than trying to cure people who are already sick. According to the Trust for America’s health, every $1 spent on prevention services saves $5.60. Every $1 spent on childhood vaccines saves $16.50.
It’s estimated that reducing type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure rates by 5 percent could save the U.S. more than $5 billion a year. Also reducing heart disease, kidney diseases and stroke by 5 percent would save $19 billion.
It’s important that Montana’s leaders in Congress remember these points when making decisions about the budget and deficit. Funding preventive health is smart. It saves lives and money. Deciding to fund public health prevention programs and services is a matter of common sense, and that’s something all Montanans can support.
(Hillary Hanson is president of the Montana Public Health Association. Alicia Thompson is health officer for the Cascade City-County Health Department. Ellen Leahy is health officer for the Missoula City-County Health Department, Melanie Reynolds is health officer for the Lewis and Clark City-County Health Department.)
Cuts to preventive health care would be costly and would cause deaths
Published: Friday, September 30th, 2011
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