Middle Class Health Sacrificed in Payroll Deal

02/17/2012 02:07 pm ET | Updated Apr 17, 2012

Alongside education and job growth, making disease prevention a priority in our health care system may be one of the most important investments we can make as a nation. Prevention saves millions of lives, billions of dollars and puts us on the path toward dramatically increased global competitiveness.

However, that simple and truthful premise is on the verge of being sacrificed in a deal now being considered by Congress.

The proposed agreement on the payroll tax cut, unemployment benefits extension and so-called "doc fix", raids critically needed prevention investments for kids affected by the obesity epidemic, women affected by the breast cancer epidemic and men affected by the heart disease epidemic.

According to the latest version of the proposal, $5 billion from the federal Prevention and Public Health Fund will be eliminated to help pay for the package.

Simply put, the "compromise" on pocketbook relief for the middle class compromises health care relief for those very same Americans and others struggling to earn a living wage. We cannot pit economic security against health security for millions of American men, women and children.

The facts are clear:

  • Preventable chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke and diabetes affect seven in ten ordinary Americans every year and eat up 75 percent of our nation's total health care bill.
  • With smart and meaningful prevention investments like a fully funded Preventive Health Fund, we could add 5.7 trillion to the nation's economic output by 2050.
  • And in my home state, where The California Endowment serves and advocates for 37 million people, just over a third of us have a chronic, preventable illness.

This proposal, as currently written, puts ground-breaking and effective HIV prevention, smoking cessation and nutrition investments in peril in California and across the nation.

As Americans, we know there must be a better way than shifting around the financial and health burdens of families because, in the end, we're the ones who lose.

It is vital that the President and members of Congress work together to find a better, more universally positive agreement for the health and prosperity of ordinary Americans -- and of our nation.