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The Prevention Dilemma: DHHS Secretary Urged To Seize Opportunity to Impact Public Health

Posted May 26 2010 10:34am
Few would argue the importance of increasing funding for community prevention. That’s the reason prevention advocates were so delighted Congress established a Prevention and Public Health Fund to “provide for expanded and sustained national investment in prevention and public health programs to improve health and help restrain the rate of growth in private and public sector health care costs.” The fund makes available $500 million in new spending in FY2010; the fiscal year ending September 30. There is a tough decision ahead to spend a great deal of money in a short period of time.

There are many worthy ideas vying for DHHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ attention. She is the official charged by the new law in allocating the funds “for prevention, wellness and public health activities…”

How should the Secretary make the initial trust fund allocation given that so many deserving programs are asking for a slice from the pie?

In an Op Ed (“ The Prevention Dilemma ”) written for Kaiser Health News, Partnership for Prevention CEO, Dr. Robert Gould, answers the tough question.

“There will never be enough federal money to address every prevention need. What the secretary needs to decide is whether there is sufficient political courage to concentrate early prevention funding to deliver a knockout blow to the leading cause of premature death in the country? … The criteria for prioritizing this specific funding should be simple: what are the evidence-based programs that are primed and ready to go, that are proven to work, that we know will move us toward a healthier society and that we can be sure will deliver a large, measurable return on investment? By these criteria, the top priority for prevention spending should be tobacco control.”

Gould recommends DHHS focus their resources on three well tested, evidence-based components::

1) Nationwide public education campaign modeled on the highly successful Truth® campaign that dissuades thousands of young people from initiating tobacco use and encourages smoking cessation;

2) Fully funding quit lines that provide direct cessation services and significantly improve quit rates efficiently and effectively, especially among disadvantaged populations served by Medicaid; and

3) Support for existing state and community-based tobacco control programs that reach people where they live, work, play and worship.”

The Partnership leader believes the goal of this potentially historic investment is simple and most important, achievable.. Gould concludes
“If community-based tobacco control programs could be brought to scale nationally, we have a genuine opportunity to drive smoking rates into single digits. The rapid and enduring payoff, in lives and money saved, is there for the taking. It’s a rare opportunity. I urge Secretary Sebelius to seize it.”

Sounds like good advice. Do you agree?

Ripley Forbes
Director, Government Affairs
Partnership for Prevention
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