How Will Health Reform Impact Workplace Safety?

David LaHoda, April 12, 2010

Lost in all the polarizing rhetoric associated with the passage of healthcare reform—jubilation for one side and social and economic apocalypse for the other side—is information on how reform could affect workplace health and safety.

In a recent National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Science Blog post, the director of that agency, John Howard, MD, identified what the passage and signing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act means for workplace safety and health programs and those in charge of administering them.

Howard has headed NIOSH under both Presidents Bush and Obama.

Here are some of his observations on how the prevention provisions of healthcare reform bode well for workplace health and safety:

  • Healthcare reform legislation authorizes many new programs targeting prevention and wellness, which can be funded separately by the newly created Prevention and Public Health Fund, beginning at $2 billion a year, or in conjunction with the standard appropriations process. "Included in these programs is the authority for CDC to conduct research and provide technical assistance related to employer-based wellness programs," according to Howard.

  • Of special interest to the healthcare industry is a provision that establishes the National Health Care Workforce Commission. Composed of health professionals, employers, third-party payers, and labor unions, the commission has the responsibility to "submit recommendations to Congress, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Health and Human Services about improving safety, health, and worker protections in the workplace for the healthcare workforce," according to the reform law.

  • The healthcare reform package also seeks to increase the supply of the healthcare workforce by enhancing education, training, and providing support to improve access to and the delivery of healthcare services for all individuals. "Knowing that our field is facing a looming crisis in terms of a shortage of occupational safety and health professionals, I hope that the OSH [occupational safety and health] community will take advantage of the components of the bill," said Howard.

  • Finally, on a broadest scale, there are obvious workplace health and safety benefits to increasing insurance access, including coverage to 32 million uninsured people and tax credits to small businesses to help cover the cost of insuring employees. "By providing coverage for workers, we can hope for better preventive care and that workplace illnesses and injuries will be diagnosed and managed more effectively," said Howard.

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