Preventing Chronic Diseases
In Iowa, and across the United States, we frequently fail to make an adequate up front investment in preventing chronic disease. So we end up spending hundreds of billions of dollars on hospitalization, treatment and disability that could be avoided. Instead of a true “health care” system a system that keeps healthy people healthy we have a “sick care” system that is focused on helping people after they get sick.
We each have a responsibility to make smart choices in order to stay healthy. But, too often, Americans lack basic information about staying healthy. And too many Americans don’t know about or lack access to health screenings and preventive services. This must change. Ben Franklin got it right: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
HeLP America Act
To achieve these ends, Senator Harkin has introduced the Healthy Lifestyles and Prevention (HeLP) America Act of 2007. More than 75 percent of all medical expenditures are due to chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stress, and depression, many of which are preventable. Yet only two percent of health care spending in the U.S. goes to preventing chronic disease. The HELP America Act seeks to change this by harnessing the power of prevention in a variety of ways. It seeks to reorient our health care system away from one focused on disease treatment and management to one that is based upon the promotion of healthy lifestyles and the prevention of chronic disease. Promoting healthy behaviors such as eating nutritious foods, being physically active, avoiding tobacco use, and ensuring access to mental heath services can prevent or control the devastating effects of many chronic diseases.
Healthy Workforce Act
Senator Harkin has joined with business leaders and public health officials to author the Healthy Workforce Act. Just as chronic conditions have taken too high a toll on individuals, they are imposing rising costs on employers who offer health insurance. Obesity alone costs employers approximately $33 billion in health care and other indirect costs. In contrast, investments in the health and wellness of employees can yield dramatic results. Studies show that for every dollar invested, health promotion and disease prevention programs yield between $2-$10 in savings. To encourage more of these vital programs, the Healthy Workforce Act would provide small and medium-sized businesses with tax credits to offer comprehensive wellness programs. To receive the credit, businesses would be required to have programs in place to encourage employee participation, such as a reduction in health insurance premiums. Physical Activity
Since the 1970s, the percentage rate of obesity has more than doubled for preschool children aged 2-5 years and adolescents aged 12-19 years and it has more than tripled for children aged 6-11 years. On reason is a marked decline in physical activity among children. For example, a recent survey found that 61.5 percent of children do not participate in any organized physical activity outside of school hours. To address this, Senator Harkin has introduced the Promoting Lifelong Active Youth (PLAY) Every Day Act. The PLAY Every Day Act supports the development of a “community play index” to measure the barriers in communities to youth participating in physical activity. The legislation also assists coalitions to craft plans to promote physical activity and wellness in communities.
Smoking remains the number one preventable cause of death in this nation. It is responsible for more than 400,000 deaths annually and costs $100 billion in medical and other indirect costs. And every day, 4,000 children under age 18 start smoking; 1,000 will ultimately die of smoking related diseases. Senator Harkin has worked to address this, by supporting legislation to give the Food and Drug and Administration (FDA) the authority it needs to regulate the marketing and manufacture of tobacco products in an effort to curb youth smoking. He has also introduced the Smoke Free Mothers and Babies Act, which aims to help women on Medicaid stop smoking during pregnancy.
Harkin Wellness Grants
As Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations, Senator Harkin has held hearings in Iowa and in Washington to learn more about the medical and financial costs of chronic conditions such as obesity, tobacco use and mental illness. After meeting with schools, employers and other community organizations in Iowa and nationwide who are doing innovative things to promote wellness, he created the Harkin Wellness Grants program to promote healthier lifestyles by giving communities the tools they need to develop creative approaches to promote disease prevention and wellness. In September 2005, in conjunction with the Iowa Department of Public Health, Senator Harkin announced that 28 public and private organizations in Iowa would receive a total of $2.7 million through the Harkin Wellness Grant program. Harkin Wellness Grants go to a wide variety of community organizations including, cities; school districts, and community-based nonprofit organizations.