Prevent the Senate From Gutting Prevention

With many Americans struggling in a shaky economy, Congress is understandably working to address the concerns of small businesses as the new health reform law is implemented.

But efforts to relieve small business of new paperwork requirements in the law must not jeopardize one of its most critical provisions — a fund to prevent serious and costly diseases.

Don't Gut Reform Before It Can Work

This shortsighted tradeoff would continue a nonsensical system in which we spend billions treating debilitating diseases that we know how to prevent, while shortchanging the proven services that prevent these illnesses in the first place. It would chip away one cornerstone of a new health care system that is intended to be less costly, more rational and lead us toward a healthier society.

Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska wants to repeal a part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — the health reform law — that requires businesses to report certain transactions to the IRS in order to improve tax collection. To help make up for the revenue that would be lost, the Johanns Amendment would effectively eliminate the Prevention and Public Health Fund. This would gut the program before it has a chance to work.

That would be tragic. And you can stop it by taking action.

Preventing Disease Saves Billions

Americans spend more than $2 trillion a year to treat disease and manage illnesses. Almost three quarters of that is spent caring for people who suffer from diseases that we know how to prevent. For example, smoking causes one in five deaths from coronary heart disease, nearly one-third of all cancer deaths and 9 in 10 deaths from lung cancer. Tobacco-related diseases cost us $96 billion in health care bills every year, and the lifetime health care costs for individuals who smoke are $17,500 higher than they are for non-smokers.

There's growing concern about the enormous health expenditures that are related to obesity, a significant contributor to diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and other coronary diseases. We know that more than half of all cancers can be prevented — not just detected early or treated — by changes in tobacco use, diet and exercise.

Small Business Benefits

Preventable diseases rob our families of healthy and productive years of life, and contribute to ever-rising insurance premiums. They fuel increasing Medicare and Medicaid costs. All taxpayers — including small business owners — bear these costs.

In fact, many small business owners have seen firsthand how a single serious illness among their employees can cause their insurance premiums to soar and productivity to plummet. The new health reform law is meant to stop this cycle.

The Senate can ease complicated rules for business without compromising the core principle that we should — and absolutely can — prevent the very diseases that ultimately cost us the most to treat.