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Public Says Prevention Key Component of Healthcare Reform

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, June 10, 2009

America's aging and overweight public wants whatever healthcare reforms emerge in the coming months to invest in an ounce of prevention more than a pound of cure, according to a new poll today that ranks disease prevention as the public's top healthcare priority.

The poll of 1,014 registered voters, conducted last month by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that 70% of Americans gave investing in prevention between an eight and 10 on a scale of zero to 10, with 10 means very important. Of those, 46% gave prevention a10. Prevention was rated higher than all other reform proposals, including tax credits to small businesses and prohibiting health insurers from denying coverage based on health status.

About 76% of Americans support more funding for prevention programs and for policies that help people make healthier choices. Investing in prevention is not a partisan issue: 86% of Democrats, 71% of Republicans, and 70% of independents support it, the poll shows.

"This report shows that the American people believe prevention and wellness are the cornerstones of a high performing healthcare system. And they're right," says Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-MT. "We spend nearly $800 billion on health problems that are directly linked to lifestyle and poor health habits each year–about one third of our total healthcare spending. Simply put, that's too much. Reforming our system to focus on prevention will drive down costs and produce better health outcomes."

"For too long, healthcare has focused on treating people after they become sick instead of trying to help them stay healthy in the first place," says Jeff Levi, executive director of the nonprofit TFAH. "This poll shows the American public strongly believes it's time we shift from a sick care system to a true healthcare system that stresses disease prevention."

Maybe.

While Americans talk up the idea of disease prevention, it's not clear if they'd actually practice what they preach. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 27% of Americans are obese, and there is no sign that that trend is slowing. The value of McDonald's restaurant stock has tripled since 2003 and that's not because people are eating more McSalad.

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