By Larry Cohen
It's time to forego the rhetoric and have an honest dialogue about the state of our nation. We're throwing away good health in the name of reducing debt. Those who oppose prevention would have us believe that the country's suffering is primarily due to runaway debt. However, our spending must be informed by values-by what matters to us as a nation. When we see friends and family die unnecessarily, we know that health matters. When we fail to protect our health and wellbeing through prevention we are allowing linear thinking to replace values and common sense.
In truth, we are suffering, but the national debt is not the only reason. Right this moment, many in our communities are sick, injured and dying from preventable illness and injuries. Preventable chronic illnesses alone continue to account for seven out of ten deaths annually.
Our economy suffers as well and this suffering is not relieved when a recent Gallup poll finds that U.S. businesses bear the burden of $153 billion in annual lost productivity due to chronic diseases, including those resulting from lack of access to healthy food and opportunity for physical activity. When we don't prioritize prevention, we're failing to realize prevention's 5:1 cost savings.
By saving money and lives, the Prevention and Public Health Fund is a key part of the solution to what ails us. Created through the Affordable Care Act, the fund is a historic commitment to keeping communities healthy in the first place. Yet from day one, the fund has faced near constant threats of elimination and severe cuts. Tomorrow is no different. The House Energy and Commerce Committee is considering eliminating what is left of the fund in order to provide needed "savings" to avoid sequestration cuts triggered by the failure of the Super Committee.
Claims that eliminating the only source of dedicated and ongoing prevention funding-funding that seeks to keep entire communities healthy-will save us from further suffering are naïve at best and, at worst, disingenuous. It is certainly not the honest dialogue we need to move our nation forward.
Solving our national debt crisis is critical but we cannot afford to do so by ignoring the simple truth that preventing illness and injury in the first place is part of an effective debt reduction strategy. The American people want prevention. What we need from our national leaders is the will and wisdom to move our country forward. If we keep abandoning prevention, our families, businesses and economy will continue to suffer. This kind of short-sighted thinking is not the answer to our nation's growing debt problem - it is a cause of it.