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Prevention in the Health Act
April 13, 2010
When President Obama signed health-care reform into law late last month, most media coverage focused on the bill’s central provisions of prohibiting the denial of insurance coverage based on preexisting conditions, providing subsidies to make insurance affordable, and requiring that nearly all Americans have insurance coverage by 2014. But the 906 pages of the act contain numerous other grants and programs, some of which could have a far-reaching impact.
A recent article in The New York Times outlines preventive health initiatives that were included in the act. One provision of the act requires chain restaurants with 20 or more branches to display calorie information on their menus and to provide brochures with more detailed nutrition information upon request. Another provision allows employers to give employees rewards equaling up to 30% of the cost of weight-loss, smoking-cessation, or other wellness programs they participate in. Companies with 50 or more employees must give mothers time to pump breast milk, a measure aimed to encourage capitalizing on the preventive health benefits of breastfeeding. Some other provisions are more directly related to medical care: Insurers are required to fully cover all screenings recommended by the United States Preventive Services Task Force (a government-assembled panel of independent experts), and Medicare enrollees will have an “annual wellness visit” covered.
One provision that drew vocal opposition is a five-year, $5 billion “prevention and public health fund” that will provide grants to local governments and community groups. Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, denounced it as a “slush fund” for “pork barrel projects.” And while Democrats largely claim that the array of preventive health measures in the bill could significantly reduce health care costs (see a clip of Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, use diabetes as an example below), the director of the Congressional Budget Office maintains that while the programs might have health benefits, they are likely to cost at least as much as they save.
What do you think — do these programs seem like worthwhile health investments? Are you willing to have your tax dollars support programs that may improve the community’s health but will not necessarily have any effect on your personal health? Should more restrictive measures have been included in the act, such as a tax on sugary beverages to help pay for expanded health coverage? Should preventive health be a priority even if it does not save the health-care system money? Leave a comment below!
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