We, as Americans, find ourselves living in a time of astounding debt– $14.3 trillion to be exact. Many Americans are worried about their own financial future and freedom as well as the fiscal outlook of our country. As the Administration scrambles to find a solution, parties are further divided over the ‘best’ way to help our country absolve its debt and restore the American dream.
I was struck yesterday by the words of Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) during remarks he gave at the unveiling of the first ever National Prevention Strategy by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). As he talked candidly about transforming our current “sick care system” (where we invest in health only after diagnosed with serious or chronic illness) to a health care system (focused on prevention) he quoted figures illuminating just how backwards our investments in health care have been. Each year, the U.S. spends more than $2 trillion dollars on health care, but we only invest 4 cents (per every dollar spent on health care) on prevention. He continued that every dollar invested in prevention could save $6 dollars in health care costs. Now that’s a substantial ROI.
Against the backdrop of the current financial crisis, could an investment in prevention be part of our debt solution? A piece of the recovery pie. In light of these figures and the alarming rate of preventable chronic disease, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin outlined HHS’s four pronged approach for investing in prevention and creating a healthier nation. My colleague Maria James details the national plan in her post, but in my opinion, it’s a sound investment of public resources – creating healthier communities, preventing chronic and life-limiting disease, and reducing the fiscal burden of our current health care system on the economy.
As our policymakers look for new, innovative strategies to help our country crawl out of this seemingly black hole of debt, Senator Harkin, his left-wing colleagues, and health economists, who have been preaching prevention for years, may be on to something. I’m anxious to see how HHS and its peer agencies rollout this plan at the community level, and if its local programs do, over time, solicit healthy behavior changes and generate cost-savings at the national level. This unprecedented, holistic approach to improving the nation’s health is a step in the right direction for not only our waistlines, but potentially our wallets as well.