Is the U.S. prepared for a potential virulent pandemic? This toolkit examines public health infrastructure, funding and policy levers that deal with these kinds of health crises in America.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently declared a public health emergency due to the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, which has accounted for over 13,000 reported cases and 4,800 deaths. Some imported and locally acquired cases in health care workers have also been reported in the United States. As a result, concerns about the further escalation of this epidemic and how to best prepare for and contain this deadly disease exist in both the U.S. and abroad.
The coverage expansion under the Affordable Care Act brings new pressures and opportunities for health centers, including the potential to serve newly-insured patients while continuing as a cornerstone of the primary care safety net for the uninsured. At the same time, health centers are in the midst of rapid transformation brought about in part by recent federal investments in health center capacity and delivery system improvements, even as they face uncertainty about future state and federal funding.
Preventive services were a priority in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), which required that a set of services be available to consumers with no cost sharing. This has improved access for some people to some services. But persistent barriers for consumers are limiting the utilization of preventive services. These barriers include the variability of insurance coverage, the affordability of out-of-pocket costs, the challenges of education and outreach, and the funding of public health initiatives.
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent anthrax assaults, the federal government began to reevaluate the nation’s preparedness for public health emergencies. Since then, the nation has been hit by massive floods, hurricanes and other disasters, and last year Hurricane Sandy swept up the east coast, crippling several states and nearly exhausting emergency services. Despite the continued need for a strong emergency response infrastructure to combat natural disasters, reemerging diseases, pandemics and food-borne illnesses, state health department budgets have been shrinking.
With a continued focus on the need to control the high and rising cost of care, Congress is looking for low cost, high yield policy solutions. Chronic illnesses are among the biggest drivers of growing health care costs, and a drain on worker productivity in our nation. For example, researchers note that per person health care spending for obese adults is 56 percent higher than for normal-weight adults. Diabetes and other chronic illnesses can be prevented or greatly delayed with solutions beyond or outside of medical care. Many fall into the category of health-related behaviors, such as whether we smoke, get exercise, eat a healthy diet– factors that are newly falling into the spheres of public health or population health.
Starting in 2014, employers will be allowed to charge their workers up to 30 percent more for health insurance premiums if they don’t meet certain health goals, under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). An Alliance for Health Reform briefing, “Worker Wellness Programs: Do They Work?” explained the provisions in the law, and examined employer efforts to improve worker wellness, along with evidence about savings.
This is the second event in a three-part series of discussions on costs, the factors driving them up and what (if anything) can be done about them. The series marks the Alliance for Health Reform’s 20th year of promoting informed and balanced discussion of health policy issues.
There is a national epidemic of chronic disease. Though it does not get the news coverage devoted to floods and tornadoes, it deserves attention and is starting to get it. There is a groundswell of activity in local communities to support healthier lifestyles and help people make long-lasting and sustainable changes that can reduce their risk for chronic diseases. A number of provisions in the health reform law are aimed directly at improving population health by addressing conditions where Americans live, learn, work, and play – at their schools, worksites, restaurants and more.
Diabetes and obesity have evolved from a national public health concern to a problem of epidemic proportions. Type 2 diabetes, which is linked to obesity and physical inactivity, accounts for 90 to 95 percent of diabetes cases for people over 40. Moreover, in 2007 an estimated 57 million American adults had “pre-diabetes,” the precursor to diabetes. Childhood obesity, which has more than tripled in the last three years, impacts these numbers because obese children are at greater risk of developing diabetes as an adult.
Unhealthy behavior is costing America billions in health care expenditures, and making us less healthy as a people. Many large employers, recognizing the impact on the health of their workers and the companies’ bottom lines, offer financial incentives to their employees to exercise regularly, improve their diets, lose weight and quit smoking, among other things. Many employers cite substantial savings from these programs in their health coverage costs.
Where You Live Matters: Results from The Commonwealth Fund Commission on a High Performance Health System’s 2009 State Scorecard
The cost and quality of health care, as well as access to care and health outcomes, continue to vary widely among states according to the Commonwealth Fund Commission on a High Performance Health System’s second state scorecard. The report, Aiming Higher: Results from the 2009 State Scorecard on Health System Performance, is a follow-up to the Commission’s 2007 State Scorecard report; ranking states on 38 indicators in the areas of access, prevention/treatment quality, avoidable hospital use and costs, healthy lives, and equity.
To improve the health of communities and the general population, an array of health reformers, states and businesses alike are all looking to a range of prevention measures such as chronic disease management, alcohol and smoking cessation, and obesity programs. The hope is that these measures will also improve value and control costs.
Where we live, learn, work and play can have an enormous influence on our health and well being. Yet millions of working men and women and their families face almost insurmountable barriers to better health on a daily basis. Many of these hurdles can’t be cleared simply by choosing a healthy path. For example, many inner city and rural families have virtually no access to healthful foods. Many neighborhoods are unsafe for walking, let alone exercise. Children who do not receive high-quality services and education run a higher risk of becoming less healthy adults.
Community health centers (CHCs) play a key role in the U.S. health care safety net. They provide primary health care and other health services for medically underserved populations, including 1 in 8 Medicaid beneficiaries, 1 in 7 uninsured persons, 1 in 3 people in poverty, 1 in 10 minorities, and 1 in 9 rural Americans.
The recent deaths of two children due to preventable dental conditions focused attention on the importance of improving access to dental coverage for low-income Americans. With SCHIP reauthorization on the horizon and the chance that elements of last year’s vetoed SCHIP proposal—which included provisions for dental care—may be revived, oral health issues are front and center.
The U.S. health care system is often touted as a model for the rest of the world. We are clearly a leader in costs, but how well are we performing in return for our high investment? How do we do compare to benchmarks of achievable performance? And is performance getting better?
Providing a Shot in the Arm: Boosting the Development and Distribution of Vaccines in the U.S. and Worldwide
Vaccines are among the greatest triumphs of medical science over illness and disease in the past half-century. In the United States, vaccine use has virtually eradicated smallpox and polio and has drastically reduced the incidence of the dangerous—and formerly common—childhood illnesses measles, mumps and rubella.