Why should I care?
The then Institute of Medicine reported in 2012 that "the current generation of children and young adults in the United States could become the first generation to experience shorter life spans and fewer healthy years of life than those of their parents."1 In fact, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2015, American life expectancy dropped for the first time in more than two decades.2
We can and must do better. To live up to our nation's health potential, there are three important system changes we must address.
More Americans need health insurance. The Affordable Care Act has brought health insurance to an additional 20 million Americans.3 And these aren’t just plans for emergencies. They include essential health benefits that help people access preventive care to prevent minor health issues from becoming more serious.4 That's amazing progress. However, as of 2015, more than 28 million people remain uninsured.4
The U.S. must invest more in health and prevention. Seventy-five percent of our health care costs are related to preventable conditions like obesity, tobacco use and unsafe sex practices.5 Yet less than 3 percent of our health care spending is focused on prevention.6 Prevention investments are more than a smart use of public dollars — they also save lives. In fact, every 10 percent increase in funding for community-based health programs is estimated to reduce deaths due to preventable causes by up to 7 percent.7
Health disparities exist among numerous populations. Health inequities related to income and access to coverage exist across demographic lines, but population-based disparities are impossible to deny. For example, as reported by Families USA, African-Americans of all ages are more than twice as likely to die9 from diabetes than whites and Hispanic high school students are 80 percent more likely10 to have attempted suicide than non-Hispanic white high school students. 9
What can I do?
Upon its return in January, it is likely Congress will quickly consider legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act and turn back the enormous progress we’ve made to insure millions of Americans and refocus on prevention and health. To keep the health of America moving in the right direction, you can take action right now to:
- Tell Congress to support and continue to implement the Affordable Care Act and urge your state lawmakers to either sustain or authorize Medicaid expansion for low-income adults. If the Affordable Care Act helped you or your family access needed care and preventive services, share your story with lawmakers or consider sending a letter-to-the-editor to your local newspaper. Personal stories from real people are powerful advocacy tools.
- Tell Congress to fully fund the Prevention and Public Health Fund so we can continue changing our health system from one that focuses on treating the sick to one that focuses on keeping people healthy.
- Tell Congress to strengthen investments in the Health Resources and Services Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We need a public health and health care workforce and infrastructure that are strong enough to deal with our current and ever-changing health challenges.
1 APHA: The Prevention and Public Health Fund Issue Brief, June 2012
2 National Center for Health Statistics
3 U.S Department of Health and Human Services
5 Kaiser Family Foundation
6 APHA: Prevention and Public Health Fund
7 Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. National Health Expenditure Data
8 Health Affairs, Evidence Links Increase in Public Health Spending to Declines in Preventable Deaths, August 2011
9 Families USA. Why Getting Health Insurance Matters for African Americans
10 Families USA. Why Getting Health Insurance Matters for Latinos