In defiance of established research and common sense, investments in public health across the state and the country are being cleaved off by a Congress that continues to impose pennywise and pound-foolish budgetary constraints. If these investments continue to wither, the result is likely to be a reversal of hard-won gains against chronic diseases.
The effects of these budget cuts are clear enough in a report recently prepared by the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO).
-- 25 percent of local health departments reported a loss in staffing, through layoffs or attrition.
-- 9 percent reported reduced staff time, such as cut hours or furlough days.
-- 19 percent made cuts to at least one program.
-- 6 percent made cuts to three or more programs.
In the country as a whole, the numbers were much worse for programming cuts: 49 percent experienced cuts to at least one program, and 18 percent made cuts to three or more programs.
NACCHO’s findings were compiled before the mandatory spending cuts known as the federal sequester kicked in. But the effect of these cuts — a poison pill designed to compel Congress to compromise and now being administered to all of us because legislators failed at that, too — can be seen in health agencies’ expectations of even more budgetary pain.
In Montana, 42 percent of public health departments expect a lower budget next year than they have in 2013. That’s more pessimistic than the U.S. outlook, in which 31 percent expect a smaller budget.
In a guest opinion earlier this month, Alicia Thompson of the Montana Public Health Association and John Felton, president and CEO of RiverStone Health in Billings, noted research indicating that a $3 billion investment in public health returns more than $16 billion in annual savings within five years. That’s the sort of actionable data that should be prompting our legislative leaders to ensure that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Health Resources and Services Administration are fully funded. Those dollars have a real, measurable impact on the ground in places like Billings.
When public health agencies are denied those funds, the impact is every bit as real — and devastating. Diabetes self care, immunizations, preventive measures for heart disease, cancer and strokes are all put at risk when funding is scarce.
It’s been demonstrated, time and again, that a populace with access to preventive medicine and programs is a healthier community. All who care about these vital services should make their voices heard by decision makers in Washington.