A week to re­flect on long-term plans to ad­dress pub­lic health is­sues

Modern Healthcare - - The Week Ahead - —Steven Ross John­son

Amer­i­can Pub­lic Health As­so­ci­a­tion Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Dr. Ge­orges Ben­jamin ac­knowl­edges that con­ver­sa­tions among his peers have changed since law­mak­ers started threat­en­ing fund­ing for so­cial pro­grams to im­prove com­mu­nity well­ness.

“We feel like we’re in a bat­tle that I think we shouldn’t be in,” Ben­jamin said. “In gen­eral, we’re fight­ing to just keep things sta­tus quo.”

But he hopes this week, an an­nual recog­ni­tion of pub­lic health ef­forts, will mo­bi­lize ad­vo­cates to con­ceive bold ap­proaches to deal with ac­cess to be­hav­ioral health­care, the spread of in­fec­tious dis­eases like the flu, cli­mate change and vi­o­lence.

The over­ar­ch­ing theme of Na­tional Pub­lic Health Week is cre­at­ing the world’s health­i­est na­tion by the year 2030.

There are a few press­ing mat­ters and some in­no­va­tive ideas on how to ad­dress other is­sues.

For ex­am­ple, more than half of Amer­i­can adults go with­out treat­ment for men­tal health is­sues de­spite in­creases in in­surance cov­er­age and ef­forts to bring the spe­cialty into the primary-care set­ting. Mean­while, this past flu sea­son saw an above-av­er­age num­ber of re­lated hos­pi­tal­iza­tions. Pub­lic health ex­perts want to re­duce the risk in fu­ture sea­sons by en­cour­ag­ing em­ploy­ers to per­mit more sick leave.

Ad­vo­cates have also ad­dressed the in­creased rates of sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted dis­eases by boost­ing sex­ual health ed­u­ca­tion in schools at a time when the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has em­pha­sized ab­sti­nence.

Cli­mate change is an­other is­sue that has pub­lic health ad­vo­cates and the White House at odds. But the as­so­ci­a­tion hopes to bring it to the fore­front in the com­ing year.

Lastly, pub­lic health of­fi­cials will dis­cuss sup­port­ing youth in­ter­ven­tion pro­grams as a way to curb vi­o­lence in com­mu­ni­ties more prone to it.

Amid dis­cus­sions on th­ese is­sues will be grow­ing con­cern among ad­vo­cates about fund­ing to pay for cur­rent ini­tia­tives and any new pro­grams.

The $1.5 tril­lion tax bill in­cluded a $750 mil­lion cut from the Pre­ven­tion and Pub­lic Health Fund, es­tab­lished un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act. The fund makes up roughly 12% of the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion’s an­nual bud­get and funds state and lo­cal preven­tive health pro­grams. In Fe­bru­ary, an­other $1.35 bil­lion was cut from the fund as a part of the om­nibus spend­ing leg­is­la­tion.

Ben­jamin re­mains hope­ful, say­ing new lead­er­ship at HHS, in­clud­ing Sec­re­tary Alex Azar, may help ad­vance the pub­lic health agenda.

Ben­jamin

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