Healthcare Bill Funds Prevention and Wellness Research

October 6, 2009
Jim Wagner

For a little light, albeit wonkish, reading, pick up a copy of America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, otherwise known in town halls across the country as the Healthcare Reform Act. It begins innocently enough: "To provide affordable, quality healthcare for all Americans and reduce the growth in healthcare spending, and for other purposes."

For a little light, albeit wonkish, reading, pick up a copy of America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009, otherwise known in town halls across the country as the Healthcare Reform Act. It begins innocently enough: "To provide affordable, quality healthcare for all Americans and reduce the growth in healthcare spending, and for other purposes." What is and isn't in the 1018 pages that follow this lofty beginning is the source of political angst that will affect all of us for decades. Like it or not, it's a debate that must be dealt with and explored.

From a holistic viewpoint, no serious healthcare reform bill would be complete without provisions to boost preventative measures. Right now, Americans tend to think of healthcare as a pill to be taken rather than a lifestyle to be followed. This thinking has to change, or healthcare costs will continue to spiral out of control. So as long as we're spending a few trillion dollars on reform, why not include a few million for nutrition education and research?

Turns out, the bill might have, sort of. Buried deep on page 935 lies Section 3121, titled National Prevention and Wellness Strategy. This provision calls for the Department of Health and Human Services to devise a national strategy to improve the nation's health through "evidence-based clinical and community prevention and wellness activities."

If the provision were to become law, the Department of Health and Human Services would have one year to 1) identify national goals and objectives in prevention and wellness activities; 2) establish national priorities for prevention and wellness, taking into account unmet prevention and wellness needs; 3) establish national priorities for research on prevention and wellness; and 4) identify health disparities in prevention and wellness. The Department of Health and Human Services would be charged with updating its strategy every two years.

QUOTE OF THE MONTH

"This kind of medicine [integrative medicine] should be the new foundation of American healthcare. It is the key to cutting the out-of-control costs that are sinking the system." - Dr. Andrew Weil

There are big bucks behind these goals. The bill would establish a Prevention and Wellness Trust, with $2.4 billion available in 2010. The fund would grow every year, reaching $4.6 billion in 2019. About $35 million a year, through 2019, would go toward the creation of a 30-member Prevention Task Force. A few billion would go toward building wellness infrastructure on the state and local level.

It's unclear if these funds would do anything to advance the natural or organic industry, but there is one allocation that might. The bill sets aside $100 million in 2010, increasing to $338 million in 2019, for prevention and wellness research. Nonprofit groups or state healthcare departments can tap these funds to support science that shows what we all know-that prevention is the best form of medicine.

In what may be the most obvious statement ever made, not one penny should be relied upon until the bill is signed into law. Who knows, the latest mark-up may have deleted Section 3121 or doubled the research allocations. Anything is possible. What we can hope for is an effort to instill prevention and wellness in the American psyche.

The results could be dramatic and life-saving. As one small example, consider what nutrition education could do for millions of obese children. Studies show that on average, Americans consume about 250 to 300 more calories daily today than they did a decade ago. Moreover, almost 50% of the calories are due to the consumption of sugared beverages. Imaging the effect on diabetes and obesity if the funds existed to move that trend even a fraction in the right direction.

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