The Health Care Law and Progress in Prevention

by Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services
Posted July 8, 2013

Three years ago, the Affordable Care Act ushered in a new day for health care, especially for prevention.  Americans have gained stronger, more reliable health care coverage to help them get healthy and stay healthy.  For those with private insurance coverage, which is more than 100 million Americans, cancer screenings, blood pressure readings, flu shots, and other essential preventive care services are now available without any out-of-pocket costs.  And better choices are on the way for Americans without health insurance, thanks to the new health care law.  Starting this fall, the Health Insurance Marketplace will give Americans a whole new way to shop for health coverage.

But we know that health is more than merely the absence of disease; it is physical, mental, and social well-being.

That’s why the Affordable Care Act created the National Prevention Council, which provides coordination and leadership for 20 Federal departments, agencies, and offices to advance prevention, wellness, and health promotion.  In June 2011, the National Prevention Council released the National Prevention Strategy with the vision of moving the nation from a focus on sickness and disease to one based on prevention and wellness. The Strategy envisions a prevention-oriented society where all sectors contribute to the health of individuals, families, and communities.

On July 1st, we released the 2013 Annual Status Report of the National Prevention Council, which provides an update on the Council’s progress implementing the National Prevention Strategy.  I am incredibly pleased to see the progress that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and our colleagues from across the Federal government have made in the last two years. 

For example, HHS launched the Million Hearts initiative to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. We are joined in this initiative by colleagues from three other Federal agencies – the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Office of Personnel Management, and the Environmental Protection Agency – as well as many state and local governments, community organizations, and private partners.  Working together, we are making major progress to improve care and empower people to make healthy choices to address the major risk factors for heart disease. 

The work of the National Prevention Council is one piece of the Affordable Care Act’s comprehensive approach to prevention.  Another key component is the Prevention and Public Health Fund.  The Prevention Fund has supported innovative public health initiatives to advance health and wellness.  For example, the Community Transformation Grants program empowers communities to design and implement community-based strategies to prevent chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.  By promoting healthy lifestyles, collaborating across sectors, and leveraging resources, Community Transformation Grant awardees work to help improve health, reduce health disparities, and control health care spending. 

Other innovative public health initiatives initiated thanks to the Prevention Fund include the national media campaign, “Tips from Former Smokers.”  These ads feature compelling stories of former smokers living with smoking-related diseases and disabilities.  Last year, the ads prompted more than 200,000 additional calls to the 800-QUIT-Now quitline and more than 500,000 visits to the cessation support Web site.

Because of the comprehensive approach to prevention in the Affordable Care Act, we can now support efforts like the “Tips” campaign to encourage people to quit smoking and help them to quit.  Thanks to the health care law, tobacco cessation preventive services are covered in new private health insurance plans nationwide.

To maximize our prevention efforts, we need to ensure that Americans who don’t have health insurance or need better and more affordable options are able to get them.  Beginning January 2014, new coverage available in the Health Insurance Marketplace will provide Americans better access to preventive care through affordable health coverage options.  Beginning October 1, 2013, millions will be able to enroll in affordable private health plans and, in States that choose to expand, Medicaid plans.  I look forward to working with the other National Prevention Council departments and their partners in our outreach efforts to ensure that families and communities take advantage of these new options.

This is a historic time for our nation’s health.  The Affordable Care Act is providing Americans with affordable, quality health care coverage options and is promoting prevention in both our clinics and our communities.  Working together, we can achieve the National Prevention Strategy’s goal of increasing the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life.