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"Protecting Public Health is Key to Cost Containment" by Valerie Bassett

United We Stand for Public Health, a group of over 80 organizations, has re-formed to give voice to a shared urgent concern for the fate of public health in Massachusetts. We are hosting a press conference today in Nurses Hall at the Massachusetts State House to urge the Governor and legislators to protect public health in the state budget.

There is a critical role for public health in the debate over cost containment and achieving health equity in the Commonwealth yet, in the mid-year 9C cuts announced the past October, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health faced one of the highest percentage cuts of any EOHHS agency and among the highest percentage cuts for any area of state government. As a result of the October cuts of close to $30 million, MDPH lost nearly 100 positions, and the department made significant cuts to core services. Given the current shortfalls and revenue projections, public health remains vulnerable.

We have witnessed and appreciate this administration and legislature’s commitment to health and health reform, and we stand in support of new revenue measures that will support a strong public health system at the time when we need it most.

Health care reform has been an indisputable success in terms of expanding health coverage for Massachusetts residents. The impending challenges are to prove its sustainability in a period of economic downturn and to make certain it translates into a healthier Massachusetts. Public health is key to meeting those challenges.

Public health investments prevent future health care costs. Department of Public Health programs such as screening, immunization, smoking prevention, obesity prevention and infection control prevent poor health status and can reduce the need for costly medical care. Cuts to these programs will lead to increases in costly preventable illnesses.

Public health programs pick up where health coverage leaves off. Health care reform extended health coverage to thousands of Massachusetts residents who were previously uninsured. But individuals and families also need other critical services, especially in times of economic downturn. The Department of Public Health funds nutrition, substance abuse treatment, and shelter services and provides population-based disease prevention and health promotion programs. Alternatively, insurance-based disease management programs are difficult to use to consistently support low-income populations, given the disruptions in continuity of coverage for this population.

Public health programs protect the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable residents and reduce health disparities. Cuts to public health disproportionately impact underserved populations. Low income populations and immigrant communities disproportionately use urgent care and are among those most likely to fall through the gaps of health care reform. They are most likely to rely on public health services for basic needs and their health will suffer the most with cuts.

While the coalition as a whole does not support specific revenue strategies at this moment, several member organizations, including MPHA, are putting forward specific new revenue proposals including a tax on sweetened beverages and unhealthy snacks; removing the off-premise sales tax exemption from alcohol; and removing the tax exemption for specific tobacco products.

Valerie Bassett
Executive Director, The Massachusetts Public Health Ass.

This program aired on January 22, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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