Budget cuts to public health system threaten our future
November 11, 2012
by Bert Malone, chair of the legislative advocacy committee of the Missouri Public Health Association.
Springfield (Missouri) News-Leader
In communities across the country, we are seeing more people change the way they care for their health by limiting tobacco use, eating healthier and becoming more physically active with the support of public health programs.
Yet, it’s hard to believe that in a nation that holds such promise, nearly 1 million Americans are still dying every year from diseases that could be prevented.
One critical piece of the puzzle that could save millions of lives lies in improved funding for the public health system.
The nation’s public health system is supposed to be designed to keep people healthy and prevent disease. It is vital to our everyday lives. It is responsible for ensuring that the water we drink, food we eat and air we breathe are safe.
Unfortunately, the current system is a patchwork of services, programs and regulatory authorities that is neither designed for optimal performance nor funded for sustainability and success. At a time Missouri’s budget shortfalls are facing even tighter restraints, federal, state and local health departments are being asked to do more with less.
Devastating effects loom. According to a new White House report, unless Congress acts before the end of the year, public health programs face across-the-board cuts of roughly 8.2 percent if the pending “sequester” is allowed to take effect in January.
Created as part of the Budget Control Act, the sequestration is the result of the failure of Congress to pass a balanced deficit reduction plan to cut $1.2 trillion over the next decade. It is critical that Congress pass a balanced plan that does not make additional cuts to nondefense discretionary programs, which includes public health funding.
It’s time to act on what we know is the right thing to do. For the Missouri congressional delegation, the message is clear: The long-term health consequences, including costs, will far outweigh the short-term savings. Research shows how vital this is: For every $1 invested in proven community-based public health programs, $5.60 is saved, according to Trust for America's Health.
Congress must develop a bipartisan and balanced deficit reduction proposal that prioritizes public health. We cannot afford to wait. The future of our nation’s health is depending on it.
Bert Malone is chair of the legislative advocacy committee of the Missouri Public Health Association.
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