Congress Shouldn’t Sacrifice Disease Prevention Fund to Pay for Other Health Initiatives

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
November 03, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives today will consider legislation to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and fund community health centers (H.R. 3922, the Championing Healthy Kids Act). While we support these important health initiatives, it is irresponsible and unnecessary to pay for this legislation by decimating the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which is critical to addressing many of the biggest threats to our nation’s health, including tobacco use.

This legislation sets up a false choice between funding disease prevention programs and providing health care coverage and treatment. We must do both to improve health and reduce health care costs in our country. Congress should reject this legislation so long as it shortchanges our nation’s investment in disease prevention. The old adage remains true today: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

In its current form, this bill cuts the prevention fund by $6.35 billion – 57 percent – over eight years (fiscal years 2019-2026). This cut follows a $3.5 billion cut to the prevention fund that Congress approved last fall as part of the 21st Century Cures Act.

Many serious, costly diseases are preventable. Yet our current health system remains largely focused on treating disease rather than preventing it. The prevention fund was designed to help rectify this imbalance by creating a dedicated source of funding to strengthen disease prevention and public health programs. Cutting the prevention fund would set back efforts to prevent cancer, heart disease and other preventable diseases and undermine the fight against underlying risk factors, including tobacco use.

The prevention fund provides 12 percent of the overall budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and more than 60 percent of the funding for the CDC’s highly effective programs to prevent kids from using tobacco and help adult smokers quit. The prevention fund enabled the CDC to launch the federal government’s first paid nationwide media campaign encouraging smokers to quit, called Tips from Former Smokers. Since its launch in 2012, this campaign has motivated about five million smokers to try to quit, helped 500,000 smokers to quit successfully and saved at least 50,000 lives, according to the CDC. At a cost of less than $400 for each year of life saved, it is considered a “best buy” in public health. The Tips campaign is a prime example of how smart investments in prevention can reduce disease and save lives.

We should be investing more, not less, in disease prevention – including in fighting tobacco use, the nation’s No. 1 cause of preventable death. Despite enormous progress in reducing smoking, tobacco use still kills more than 480,000 Americans each year and causes nearly a third of all deaths from cancer and heart disease. Tobacco use also costs our nation $170 billion annually in health care bills, more than 60 percent of which is paid by taxpayers through government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

To improve health and rein in health care costs, we need a strong national commitment to preventing diseases, not just treating them. Congress should reject the bill in its current form.