Prevention works. A recent Gallup poll found that U.S. businesses suffer $153 billion in annual lost productivity due to chronic diseases, including those resulting from lack of access to healthy food and opportunity for physical activity. Since Johnson and Johnson implemented workplace wellness programs in 1995, the percentage of employees who smoke dropped by more than two-thirds. The number who have high blood pressure or who are physically inactive declined by more than half. Johnson and Johnson’s wellness programs saved the company $250 million on health care costs over the past decade. In times of great economic need, our businesses, our communities and our health care system will all benefit from more prevention funding—not cuts.
Public health is not separate from health care delivery. In fact, in a new national survey from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 3 out of 4 physicians surveyed wished our current health care system would cover the costs of addressing their patients’ social needs, the very needs community prevention resolves–such as lack of safe open spaces for physical activity and lack of meaningful access to affordable housing and nutritious food. Furthermore, 85% of physicians reported that it was as important to address these unmet social needs as medical conditions.
Using the Fund as an offset for the “doc fix” takes our country backward, stifling the opportunity to build a health care system where public health and health care are fully integrated. We will advance the health and well-being of our nation by helping public health and health care work together better, not by pitting them against each other.
Cohen is founder and Executive Director of Prevention Institute, a national non-profit dedicated to improving community health and equity through effective primary prevention.