Four Reasons Why Prevention Is Acutely, and Perennially, in Peril

Huff Post: David Katz, M.D.Director, Yal – Posted: 02/21/2012 8:15 am

As I write this, the Prevention Fund is about to undergo — or has just undergone — a $5 billion amputation.

For those of us dedicated to disease prevention and health promotion, this is a very cruel cut indeed. The Prevention Fund is a key element in the Affordable Care Act that allocated funds to both clinical preventive services and community-based health promotion programming.

There are, in my opinion, four reasons why this fund — and prevention/public health in general — are vulnerable now and always to the peril of martyrdom as political deals are being struck.

First, prevention at its best is as dull as watching paint dry. I say this as a preventive medicine specialist with true reverence for the field. But let’s face it — a heart attack that doesn’t happen lacks drama. The bout of influenza someone doesn’t get lacks flare. When prevention and public health work well, you see just about none of what you get. You get a lot, and see… nothing.

Second, prevention takes time. Political life cycles are short. The benefits of funding prevention now will accrue too late to influence the outcome of the next election.

Third, public health has a very serious identity problem; namely, no one can identify the public. This problem was put in the spotlight most recently by Whitney Houston’s untimely and tragic death.