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Anand Parekh and Lisel Loy: Prioritize Prevention in 2016

U.S. News & World Report

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

So far, much of the discussion on health during the current presidential campaign has been limited to Republicans’ insistence on repeal of the Affordable Care Act and Democrats coming to its defense. Beyond this singular and somewhat tired debate, the candidates have focused appropriately on the huge costs borne by the health care system – from the costs of entitlement programs, such as Medicare or Medicaid, to the costs of certain sectors of the health industry, such as pharmaceutical drugs.

What the candidates have ignored is the underlying cause of costly illness and what can be done to reverse the trends we see. Though genetics, the environment and one’s education and income all play a role in determining an individual’s health, the chief risk factors driving illness – particularly chronic diseases which account for seven of 10 deaths in this country and 86 percent of U.S. health care costs – are obesity, poor nutrition, lack of physical activity and substance abuse, such as tobacco use.

These factors contribute not only to illness and disability but also to a multitude of additional challenges facing our country: record deficits and debt, diminished productivity, lower educational attainment of children and decreased readiness of our military, just to name a few.

In light of the importance of chronic diseases and their underlying risk factors, the data released last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is concerning. Among adults, obesity is still on the rise. About 38 percent of American adults were obese in 2013 and 2014, a significant increase compared to 32 percent a decade ago. And although the adult smoking rate continues to decline, close to three in 10 uninsured adults and adults covered by Medicaid still smoke. Tobacco use continues to account for approximately 480,000 deaths annually in the United States, along with an estimated $300 billion in health care costs and lost productivity.

KEYWORDS: 2016, AFFORDABLE CARE ACT, ANAND PAREKH, BPC OP-EDS, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION, LISEL LOY, MEDICAID, MEDICARE