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What Community Health Centers Mean to Americans and How they Manage Chronic Diseases

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If 75 percent of your income was spent on funding a medical condition that could have been prevented in the first place, that would get your attention, right?

As a nation, most of our health care dollars are allocated to the treatment of chronic diseases. That's more than $1 trillion a year spent on treating preventable and chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. The impact extends beyond dollars spent. More than half of Americans suffer from one or more chronic diseases every year, making them the leading causes of death and disability.

Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "four modifiable health risk behaviors -- lack of physical activity, poor nutrition, tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption -- are responsible for much of the illness, suffering and early death related to chronic diseases." Considering that 7 out of 10 deaths among Americans each year are from chronic diseases, we commissioned a survey to get a better understanding of why these preventable illnesses continue to compromise America's health and wallet.

Our "Chronic Disease Awareness Survey" not only revealed the public's misconception and understanding of chronic disease, it found that the majority of respondents admitted they are not doing as much as they can to stay healthy. For instance, nearly 40 percent of people think that what they eat has little to do with whether they get a chronic disease. And nearly 65 percent of people are aware they should exercise regularly, but do not. The increased consumption of unhealthy foods, compounded by the effects of physical inactivity, increases the risk of many severe and chronic health conditions, including coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and liver and gallbladder disease.

Chronic diseases affect everyone in some measure, whether they are a patient, family, neighbor, or a consumer footing the bill. Unless we act now the number of people living with a chronic disease is expected to increase over the next decade. The results from the "Chronic Disease Awareness Survey" show that many of us do not know the contributors of the most common chronic diseases, in fact, nearly 30 percent of respondents admit they think there is little they can do to prevent most chronic diseases.

So what can we do?

The first steps toward preventing and treating chronic diseases are education and management. This is where the national network of Community Health Centers plays a critical role in improving the quality of life for people with chronic diseases. Today, more than 9,000 health center sites throughout the country are providing care for more than 22 million Americans by increasing access to affordable health care services. As local, community-based health care systems in rural and urban neighborhoods, health centers are able to provide direct health services that are both affordable and accessible all under one roof. Their prescription is simple: treat people with quality primary care services before they are sick with a costly illness. While changes in our health care system will qualify millions of more people for health coverage, it's still a challenge for many to find quality care that could help manage -- even prevent -- many chronic diseases.

The Community Health Center model of a health care home has proven to efficiently and successfully provide much-needed services to targeted populations and by nature is able to address important health care issues like chronic disease care. Through affordable health care services, health centers provide solutions, and without them, chronic diseases will continue to impact the lives of millions of people nationwide and cost our health care system trillions of dollars every year.

The good news is that health centers each year generate $24 billion in savings to the U.S. health care system by treating chronic disease and reducing unnecessary hospitalizations and ER use. Health centers are also expanding their reach to more communities in need in places where people live and work.

To learn more about Community Health Centers and their work, please visit www.nachc.org, or visit a health center in your neighborhood.

In 2012, CVS Caremark and its foundation, the CVS Caremark Charitable Trust, announced a $3 million multi-year partnership with the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) to help increase access to quality health care and produce better health outcomes while reducing costs for patients and healthcare systems. Through this partnership, funding will support affordable community-based health care models that are producing innovative programming in the area of chronic disease management. The programs will use a variety of methods to help people manage their chronic disease and improve health outcomes - including the use of tele-medicine, nurse practitioners to monitor at-risk patients and wellness circles that bring people together who are living with and working to manage the same chronic disease.

Authored by Malvise Scott, Senior Vice President for Partnerships and Resource Development, National Association of Community Health Centers and Eileen Howard Boone, President, CVS Caremark Charitable Trust