This article was co-authored by Rachel Gielau, Healthy Futures Associate, AmeriCorps VISTA, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.
Did you know that switching the focus from treating chronic illnesses to preventing the diseases will not only improve the health of individuals and families all over the country, but will also rein in health care costs and strengthen the economy?
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is applying this logic in its fight to lower the rate of preventable chronic illnesses, produce real savings in the health care sector, and recover lost economic activity at the local, state, and national levels. And it's doing it in the name of prevention through effective public health initiatives.
The prevalence of chronic health conditions in the United States is taking a huge toll on our citizens, our nation's health care spending, and our workforce. More than half of the people living in the United States have at least one chronic health condition, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. Chronic health conditions account for seven out of 10 deaths in America and rack up 75 percent of our nation's health care spending. The cost for treating people with type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and stroke, alone, amounts to $238 billion each year. In 2010, the United States spent almost $2.6 trillion on health care, meaning we spent around $1.9 trillion just last year on treating and managing chronic illnesses, most of which are largely preventable. Here in Illinois, more than 6.7 million people have reported being diagnosed with a chronic health condition, costing the state $12.5 billion in annual health care expenses.
What's more is that the cost of chronic health conditions goes beyond the money spent on health care services. The toll these illnesses take on our workforce productivity is telling. According to the Gallup Poll, seven out of eight, or 83 percent of American workers either have a chronic health condition or are obese. The poll estimates that this prevalence of chronic illness and obesity in our workers could be costing our economy $153 billion a year in lost productivity due to increased sick days. Other reports that take into account other chronic conditions and factors like lost productivity from workers who show up on the job while sick estimate that chronic health conditions are costing the United States more than $1 trillion each year in lost economic activity.
To bring these statistics home, chronic disease plaguing Illinois's workforce cost the state $14.3 billion in lost productivity. And the commonality of chronic disease is rapidly increasing. It is estimated that the number of Americans living with a chronic health condition will increase by 36 percent, or 46 million people by the year 2030, and that we could be spending $685 billion a year on medical treatment for chronic disease by 2020. Other sources estimate the total economic toll of chronic health conditions to reach $6 trillion a year by the middle of the century.
But it doesn't have to be this way. As the CDC states, "Access to high-quality and affordable prevention measures (including screening and appropriate follow-up) are essential steps in saving lives, reducing disability and lowering costs for medical care." And research has proven that for every dollar invested in effective prevention and public health initiatives, $5.60 is saved. The same study reveals that, if we invest $10 per person every year in effective community-based public health programs, we could save the United States more than $16 billion in just five years.
Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act recognizes the benefits to be had from investing in smart and effective preventive and public health efforts. The ACA established the National Prevention, Health Promotion and Public Health Council within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), made up of secretaries from various federal departments and chaired by the surgeon general. The council is responsible for developing our first ever National Prevention and Health Promotion Strategy, which was released in June of 2011 and identifies four strategic directions for preventing disease and improving health nationwide. The four strategic directions are: creating healthy and safe community environments; expanding access to quality clinical and community preventive health service; empowering people to make healthy choices; and eliminating health disparities. The council is charged with providing leadership moving forward with the National Prevention and Health Promotion Strategy.
The ACA also established a Prevention and Public Health Fund, which is administered by the secretary of HHS, Kathleen Sebelius, and provides financial support for state and community-wide efforts to prevent disease and promote healthy lifestyles. The Fund is a 10-year, $15 billion commitment to support prevention and public health programs across the country, like the Community Transformation Grants, which fund community-level programs geared towards reducing the prevalence of chronic disease and promoting healthy lifestyles. Already, $103 million in grant money has been issued to 61 different state and community programs across the country, reaching 120 million people.
So what does all of this mean for chronic disease in Illinois? Already, the State of Illinois has received $17.14 million out of the Prevention and Public Health Fund to support community -- and state-level wellness and prevention programs aimed at preventing chronic disease and raising awareness about healthy living. For a breakdown of what programs received funding and for how much, visit HealthCare.gov online.
The Secretary of HHS will continue to issue funds for prevention and public health programs across the country to reverse the trend of chronic disease, so stay tuned as health reform continues to make a positive impact in our communities. To find out what other kinds of initiatives the Affordable Care Act has taken to increase access to preventive health measures and decrease illness in America, visit the Shriver Brief online.