As pundits and politicians ruminate on the impact of the looming Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act, there is one incontrovertible and uncontroversial message for the country. Our commitment to wellness and health, rather than simply treatments for illness is underway. The tide has turned in support of prevention and it is too late to turn back.
According to last week’s reports, by 2021 health care spending will account for nearly one-fifth of the U.S. economy. More than 2 in 3 American adults are overweight or obese, and close to 50 percent have at least one chronic condition. Yet, for every dollar we spend on treating people who are already sick, our federal government spent just four cents on public health measures designed to keep them well.
Our country must do better.
The Affordable Care Act has put into place critical supports that would bend that cost curve, helping to keep people out of the doctor’s office in the first place. Regardless of the decision that will come from the Supreme Court this week, leaders in communities, states and at the national level are moving forward with prevention efforts that will embed opportunities for wellness in everything we do.
Last week, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin released an update of the National Prevention Strategy, a landmark approach to health that asks 17 federal agency heads—from housing to education to national security—to look at their work through the lens of better health, and to work together to find solutions.
What does housing have to do with health? Everything, when kids spend more time in the emergency room than they do in school, being treated for costly asthma attacks triggered by mold and allergens where they live. How does prevention connect with homeland security? Ask retired Navy Rear Admiral James Barnett, who called our health “a train wreck that is occurring in front of our eyes,” noting that three-quarters of Americans of military age are too overweight to join.
We all have a role to play in making changes, and our federal government is doing its part. The Million Hearts initiative brings together Health and Human Services and the Office of Veteran’s Affairs to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes in the next five years, through preventive measures like blood pressure control and smoking cessation. The Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, Health and Human Services and Department of Education have joined together to make sure that kids can safely walk to school every day, promoting physical activity that betters health and buoys learning in the classroom.
Our business leaders, too, know that prevention makes smart business sense. From small business owners to huge companies like IBM, businesses are rallying to make it easier for their employees to bike to work, to find healthy food when they’re there, and to keep their families and communities healthy when they go home. They care about their employees’ health, and they care about their bottom line: Medical costs fall by about $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs.
Virtually every day, our legislators are called upon to make a commitment to a vision of wellcare rather than sickcare—whether they are asked to vote to keep healthy food on the table for SNAP (food stamp) recipients in the current farm bill, or to increase funding for maternal and child health in developing countries. We need our elected officials to stay focused on policies that protect the health of our people.
Yes, the Affordable Care Act makes headlines for championing a wellcare approach, and our nation is better off because of it. The American people deserve to reap the benefits that the ACA has codified, from truly accessible and affordable health care to coverage for pre-existing conditions, and we expect the Supreme Court to uphold the ACA. But a legal decision—any legal decision—cannot judge the benefits of prevention to our economy, to our healthcare system and to people who want and deserve to live healthier, longer lives. We already know it’s working.