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Debbie Swanson: Protect America's 'Prevention and Public Health Fund'

GRAND FORKS—Despite tremendous improvements in our nation's health system in the 20th century, the U.S. is still far from being the healthiest nation. According to a recent Commonwealth Fund report, we spend far more on health care than any other high-income country, but our lives are shorter and less healthy.

We have a health system that treats those who are sick and injured. But to become a healthier nation, we must also invest in prevention and wellness to prevent people from becoming sick in the first place.

The Prevention and Public Health Fund — a key part of the Affordable Care Act — is a unique program doing just that.

The fund is our nation's largest single investment in prevention, and it has provided more than $6 billion since 2010 to support a variety of public health activities in every state. This includes initiatives that detect and respond to infectious disease threats, prevent lead poisoning, fight obesity and curb tobacco use.

For instance, initiatives financed through the fund include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Tips From Former Smokers campaign, which has encouraged about 104,000 Americans to quit smoking for good and prevented more than 17,000 premature deaths caused by tobacco use.

The fund is helping to create healthier communities, schools, workplaces and homes by making healthy living easier.

Here in North Dakota, funding from the Prevention and Public Health Funds supports programs such as the Million Hearts Campaign that prevent high blood pressure and stroke. Other successes are immunization program enhancements, and grants to communities to prevent chronic disease through promotion of healthy eating and active living.

These critical investments move us from a state of sick care to one of health promotion and wellness.

All of this progress, however, is at risk. Congress is vowing to repeal the Affordable Care Act and with it, the Prevention and Public Health Fund.

Repealing the prevention fund without providing a corresponding increase in the federal budget would result in a major loss of funding for core public health programs. The fund makes up more than 12 percent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's annual budget and is integral to helping states keep communities healthy and safe.

In North Dakota, the CDC spends $29 per capita to help our residents achieve health. Eliminating the fund would make it extremely difficult for our local health departments to prevent disease and injuries and promote health. They depend on this funding to carry out vital public health programs.

The message to North Dakota Sens. John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp and Rep. Kevin Cramer is clear: maintain the funding made possible by the Prevention and Public Health Fund so we can make the U.S. the healthiest nation.

We can do so by investing in prevention and wellness and reducing the growth of health care costs. This is what Congress originally intended with the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

Swanson, a member of the American Public Health Association, is director of the Grand Forks Public Health Department. The views she's expressing here are her own and are not necessarily those of the department or the city of Grand Forks.