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Too much fed health support goes to treating people already sick, study says

A new state-by-state examination of public health funding finds that too much of federal support continues to be "focused on treating people after they become sick instead of preventing diseases before they occur."...

A new state-by-state examination of public health funding finds that too much of federal support continues to be "focused on treating people after they become sick instead of preventing diseases before they occur."

Investing more in disease prevention "is the most effective, common-sense way to improve health" and reduce healthcare costs by helping millions of Americans avoid developing such preventable illnesses as diabetes, cancer and heart disease, according to the report.

Because of ever-rising healthcare costs, funding cutbacks and an imbalance of funding for acute care over preventive care, "today's children are in danger of becoming the first generation in American history to live shorter, less healthy lives than their parents," the report's authors state.

The study was done by the Trust for America's Health with funding by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Results were released late last week.

Don Shields, director of the Grand Forks Public Health Department, said the study's findings are right on the mark. "We do put a lot more money into acute care and a small amount into preventive care," he said.

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In the past 10-15 years, health professionals increasingly have suggested "that maybe we should change that," Shields said, by putting more money into "preventing the physician visits, the x-rays and labs that are so expensive. We need to do more to keep people healthy and away from those costs."

The federal and state governments provide only small percentages of the revenue supporting local public health agencies in the state, Shields said, and much of local agencies' spending goes to responding to such problems as a rabies or tuberculosis outbreak.

"What the report is saying is some of this buck burden should be shared by the federal and state governments," he said. "We could make a bigger dent then on what everybody spends for health insurance and acute care."

Strong per capita funds

North Dakota ranked sixth in the nation for per capita funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Fiscal Year 2012, receiving just over $21 million or $30.09 per resident, according to the report. Minnesota ranked 39th, receiving about $95.8 million or $17.81 per capita.

In the same time, North Dakota received about $16.8 million in funding from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration, ranking 24th in a per capita measurement, while Minnesota received about $94.2 million but ranked only 43rd in per capita funding.

Measuring state funding for public health on a per capita basis, North Dakota ranked 12th at $48.62 and Minnesota was 40th at $14.40.

In a comparison of how states stand with regard to certain key health indicators, North Dakota was best in the nation for percentage of children 19 to 35 months with all immunizations. Just 16.5 percent were without.

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North Dakota also did better than the national average for percentage of uninsured residents and the prevalence of asthma, but worse in tobacco use.

Health center planned

Federal funding for public health "has remained at a relatively flat and insufficient level for years," according to the new study, which notes that the budget for the CDC fell from $7.31 billion in 2005 to $6.13 billion in 2012.

Also, state and local public health budgets "have been cut at drastic rates in recent years."

The report also notes wide variation on health statistics between states and by counties within a state, citing as an example the diabetes rate among adults in Colorado (6.7 percent) as compared to Mississippi (12.3 percent).

Shields said his department continues to work on a federal grant proposal to fund a community health center, which would focus on providing medical, dental and mental health care to low-income, uninsured and under-insured residents. Much of that care would be preventive care, he said, reducing the need for more expensive acute care down the road.

Mara Jiran was hired at the health department about 18 months ago to work toward establishing a community health center in Grand Forks, and she said she submitted a grant proposal earlier this month. The health center model was created during the "War on Poverty" of the 1960s and "has a good track record for lowering healthcare costs," she said.

Call Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1102; or send email to chaga@gfherald.com .

Related Topics: HEALTH
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