Harkin health bill orders stack of federal prevention efforts

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“Improving public health starts with prevention," he said in a statement. "Taking steps to improve access to healthier options, exercise opportunities, food labeling, and tobacco cessation will not only help stave off chronic disease — it will also save consumers and taxpayers money in the long run."

The Healthier Lifestyles and Prevention America Act contains a long list of small federal moves to encourage wellness, including measures to encourage better nutrition and more physical activity in schools and communities.

The bill would increase the excise tax on small cigarettes; provide tax credits to firms that offer comprehensive workplace wellness programs; and empower the Federal Trade Commission to restrict certain food ads aimed at kids.

The bill would also tighten food-labeling standards; expand federal study of mental health and substance-abuse disorders; and expand preventive health services covered without cost-sharing under Medicaid and the federal employee health plan.

The penalty for tobacco manufacturers would hit if they do not see a decrease in the number of young people who use their products. The Health and Human Services Department would track those trends with an annual survey.

Harkin vowed to focus on prevention when he passed up the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee to continue leading HELP.

—This post was updated Wednesday morning.