Prevention should play critical role in reforming health care

According to the Trust for America's Health (TFAH), an investment of $10 per person per year in proven community-based programs to increase physical activity, improve nutrition, and prevent smoking and other tobacco use could save the country more than $16 billion annually within five years. This is a return of $5.60 for every $1. Out of the $16 billion, Medicare could save more than $5 billion, Medicaid could save more than $1.9 billion, and private payers could save more than $9 billion.

The TFAH report (http://healthyamericans.org/reports/prevention08/), released in July 2008, entitled "Prevention for a Healthier America", finds that a small strategic investment in disease prevention could result in significant savings in U.S. health care costs.

"Health care costs are crippling the U.S. economy. Keeping Americans healthier is one of the most important, but overlooked ways we could reduce these costs," said Jeff Levi, PhD, Executive Director of TFAH. "This study shows that with a strategic investment in effective, evidence-based disease prevention programs, we could see tremendous returns in less than five years -- sparing millions of people from serious diseases and saving billions of dollars."

The economic findings are based on a model developed by researchers at the Urban Institute and a review of evidence-based studies conducted by the New York Academy of Medicine. They found that many effective prevention programs cost less than $10 per person, and that these programs have delivered results in lowering rates of diseases that are related to physical activity, nutrition, and smoking. The evidence shows that implementing these programs in communities reduce rates of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure by 5 percent within 2 years; reduce heart disease, kidney disease, and stroke by 5 percent within 5 years; and reduce some forms of cancer, arthritis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease by 2.5 percent within 10 to 20 years.

(SOURCES: Commonwealth Fund Washington Health Policy Week in Review, http://commonwealthfund.org, October 27, 2008; Trust for America's Health, http://healthamericans.org, accessed October 27, 2008)