CDC

NATIONAL. Government health officials meet Congress members (Homeland Preparedness News)

By Melina Druga

More than 80 local, state, and territorial health officials met Wednesday with Congress members with the goal of advocating for public health funding. 

The officials told Congress members that investing in public health agencies is critical to protect and promote health. Federal investment in public health has not matched the rate of inflation, the officials said, nor has it matched the health challenges affecting the United States.

Challenges include the opioid epidemic, improving immunization rates, infectious disease outbreaks, the need for more resources and employees at the local level, public health emergencies and extreme weather events.

The officials also are urging Congress to increase funding for the Centers for Disease

Control and Prevention (CDC) by 22 percent by fiscal year 2022.

Annually, $3.5 trillion is spent on health care, according to the Trust for America’s Health, but 3 percent is directed to public health.

The health officials included representatives from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, the Big Cities Health Coalition, the National Association of Local Boards of Health, and the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO).

NACCHO’s board of directors also met with CDC Director Robert Redfield and Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary for preparedness and response.

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NATIONAL. Doctors, public health workers, patient advocates — even insurers — oppose latest ACA repeal (Science Blogs)

By Kim Krisberg

Senate Republicans are again trying to ram through an Affordable Care Act replacement that threatens the health and well-being of millions of Americans. It’s shameful. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s look at what people who actually work in health care are saying about the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson bill.

In this interview, Sen. Bill Cassidy insists that his bill would protect people with pre-existing conditions. Blue Cross Blue Shield Association disagrees. (Cassidy also says in that same interview that his bill would work through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which he said has been reauthorized. That’s totally false — CHIP has not been reauthorized and its funding expires Sept. 30.) But back to pre-existing conditions — here’s what Blue Cross Blue Shield had to say:

Although we support providing states with greater flexibility in shaping health care options for their residents, we share the significant concerns of many health care organizations about the proposed Graham-Cassidy bill. The bill contains provisions that would allow states to waive key consumer protections, as well as undermine safeguards for those with pre-existing medical conditions. The legislation reduces funding for many states significantly and would increase uncertainty in the marketplace, making coverage more expensive and jeopardizing Americans’ choice of health plans...

And let’s not forget public health. The ACA’s Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF) has become an absolutely critical source of funding for the nation’s public health agencies. Cassidy’s bill would eliminate that fund. Here’s what the Big Cities Health Coalition, a forum for the country’s largest metropolitan health departments, had to say about the fund’s potential elimination:

Among the programs at risk at the CDC are the 317 Immunization Program, Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity Grants, the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, and a host of chronic disease programs. The PPHF provides vital resources to governmental public health at all levels, and its elimination will further erode our fragile health system.

Eliminating public health programs that are now funded by the ACA would seriously undermine the ability of cities and counties to protect and promote health. The loss of hundreds of millions of dollars would hamper efforts to respond to food borne illness outbreaks, prevent emerging infectious diseases like Ebola and Zika, and respond to natural disasters like Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.

And in a letter to senators from the American Public Health Association, Executive Director Georges Benjamin writes:

The Graham-Cassidy plan would also eliminate the Prevention and Public Health Fund, the first and only mandatory funding stream specifically dedicated to public health and prevention activities. The fund has already provided more than $6 billion to support a variety of public health activities in every state including tracking and preventing infectious diseases like the Ebola and Zika viruses, community and clinical prevention programs, preventing childhood lead poisoning and expanding access to childhood immunizations. Eliminating the fund would devastate the budget of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The fund currently makes up 12 percent of CDC’s budget and eliminating this funding stream would force Congress to replace the funding through the regular appropriations process where resources for nondefense discretionary programs are already too low.

Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson is a threat to America’s health. If you’d like to voice your opinion, the American Public Health Association has an easy-to-use template to help you reach your representatives in Congress. For more information on the ACA replacement, NPR has a fantastic explainer.

Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for 15 years. Follow me on Twitter — @kkrisberg.

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NATIONAL. Science Says: Pregnant or trying? Don’t let Zika guard down (Associated Press)

By LAURAN NEERGAARD

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Zika virus may not seem as big a threat as last summer but don’t let your guard down — especially if you’re pregnant or trying to be.

While cases of the birth defect-causing virus have dropped sharply from last year’s peak in parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, Zika hasn’t disappeared from the region and remains a potential threat.

It’s hard to predict how much risk people face in locales with smoldering infection, or if cases might spike again. For now, pregnant women still are being urged not to travel to a country or area with even a few reported cases of Zika, because the consequences can be disastrous for a fetus’ brain ...

Back in the U.S., public health advocates worry that $1.1 billion Congress approved last year to study and fight Zika is running out — including funding for a birth defects surveillance program intended to monitor affected babies’ development and connect them to health services.

That surveillance is critical for knowing what’s going on, said Dr. Oscar Alleyne of the National Association of County and City Health Officials. “Otherwise we’re flying blind.”

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NATIONAL. Threats to CDC Prevention Fund Draw Scrutiny (The American Journal of Managed Care)

By Mary Caffrey

Most of the early attention to the House Republicans’ American Health Care Act (AHCA) has focused on its potential effects on the individual market. But experts are now pointing to a cut of $931 million to the CDC’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, which may not be well-known to the average consumer but, in the words of one House member, is “more important to the average American than … the Defense Department.”

US Representative Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, offered that assessment to STAT while noting that the typical citizen was more likely to be exposed to a pandemic than a terrorist attack. Cole oversees CDC’s budget, and when interviewed this week was not yet sure what to do about the proposed cut contained within AHCA.

Some of his fellow Republicans call the prevention dollars, which are 12% of CDC’s budget, a “slush fund” that has been misspent on things like Zumba classes. They propose a new fund that offers flexibility to the states.

Chrissie Juliano of the Big Cities Health Coalition, writing in Health Affairswarns the CDC cut scheduled to be axed from core health programs, that cover everything from tracking diseases, providing immunizations, and preventing lead poisoning.

The CDC Prevention Fund, Juliano and others note, was one of several pieces of the Affordable Care Act designed to take the nation’s health system out of the reactive posture and toward a model of care that caught problems before they got out of hand. The CDC cuts affect the nation’s ability to battle the most common chronic conditions—heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and asthma. They set back scientists’ efforts to fight the Zika virus or to help the children in Flint, Michigan.

As Juliano writes, funds in prevention are dollars well spent, with returns on investment of $17 to $221, yielding savings of $181 million to $269 million. She wrote, “Even without considering the human cost, this investment makes good fiscal sense.”  Read more