02/12/2009 06:31 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Stimulating Jobs and Health Care Savings: 20,000 Jobs Hang in the Balance

The U.S. House of Representatives version of the stimulus package included $3 billion for disease prevention and wellness that holds the potential to create new jobs, retain existing jobs, and help contain the nation's skyrocketing health care costs. Sadly, all funding for prevention and wellness was stripped from the final Senate version of the bill.

The funding in the House stimulus could directly save or create more than 20,000 public health jobs. As states, local governments, and communities are hit with economic hard times, they have already laid off more than 11,000 public health workers and left over 10,000 jobs vacant, and at least as many layoffs are expected in the coming year. In addition, by funding the expansion of targeted, effective community-based disease prevention programs, additional new jobs will be created directly in the communities they are serving. The funding would support existing programs, where mechanisms are in place to get the money out quickly so it can have an immediate impact on the economy.

As the bill goes to Conference, Congress has the chance to do the right thing and maintain the funding included in the House version of the bill.

The funding for public health goes way beyond protecting and creating jobs. It's also a down payment toward reducing health care costs over the long term.

During the economic down term, support for public health is needed to provide a safety net for the uninsured and underinsured, whose numbers are growing as unemployment rates rise. Public health agencies help fill in the gaps for care for basic health services as well as programs aimed at reducing rates of diabetes, heart disease, and other major diseases in communities. The House version of the stimulus contains $3 billion for preventive services, which would help maintain the health of families and communities hard hit during the recession.

These programs also help improve the productivity of the U.S. workforce and contain the skyrocketing costs of health care by keeping Americans healthier in the first place. Containing health care costs is one of the most important factors for improving the U.S. economy. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, rising health care costs are the single largest cause of rapidly rising federal expenditures.

We know that prevention programs work and we know that they can reduce health care costs:

In 2008, Trust for America's Health (TFAH) released a report, Prevention for a Healthier America: Investments in Disease Prevention Yield Significant Savings, Stronger Communities, using an economic model developed by researchers at the Urban Institute which found that for every $1 spend on proven community-based disease prevention programs, the country could save $5.60 in health care costs within five years.

The January 2009 "Maximizing the Stimulus Effect of Prevention Activities" analysis by the Urban Institute experts concluded community-based disease prevention programs by definition do not increase health care costs and have been shown to reduce health spending within short time periods. Community-based prevention programs can also have "spillover effects on the quality of life and economic vitality" in communities. The researchers also conclude that investments in community-based disease prevention programs help reduce rates of disease as well as health care costs "upstream," helping people avoid developing diseases in the first place and preventing individuals with early cases of diabetes and hypertension from developing more serious and costly complications, and that these programs not only generate short- and long-term health care savings, "but also increased productivity at school and work as the result of reduced disease."

Some have argued that the stimulus is not the best vehicle for funding public health. But I would argue that it's one of the most important stimulus investments the country could make. The types of jobs we're creating are in one of the nation's only growth industries -- the health sector -- and we'll be getting a long-term bang for our buck, investing in fixing one of the biggest underlying economic problems the country faces. More than 170 public health groups agree, and have signed onto a letter to Congress, which can be seen on our website: