The U.S. Senate today will vote on a budget agreement that increases spending levels for the next two years and includes funding for important health programs such as community health centers.  Regrettably, for the second time in less than two months, the bill cuts the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which provides 12 percent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s overall budget and is critical to addressing many of the biggest threats to our nation’s health, including tobacco use. 

This legislation sets up a false choice between funding disease prevention programs and providing health care treatment. We must do both to improve health and reduce health care costs in our country. Our nation’s spending on initiatives to prevent diseases is only a small fraction of what we spend on health care treatment and research. The prevention fund was designed to help rectify this imbalance by creating a dedicated source of funding to strengthen disease prevention and public health programs.  But Congress once again is sacrificing investments in prevention that will keep people out of the doctor’s office and the hospital, saving lives and health care dollars.

The Senate bill cuts the prevention fund by $1.35 billion, or 8.9 percent, through fiscal year 2027. This cut follows a $3.5 billion cut to the prevention fund that Congress approved in 2016 as part of the 21st Century Cures Act and a $750 million cut to the prevention fund that was included in the short-term government funding bill approved in December. These shortsighted cuts will set back efforts to prevent cancer, heart disease and other costly, preventable diseases. The old adage remains true today: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. 

With the additional non-defense funding provided under the Senate agreement, we urge Congress to increase funding for the disease prevention and public health activities of the CDC, including its efforts to reduce tobacco use.

The prevention fund currently provides more than 60 percent of the funding for the CDC’s highly effective programs to prevent kids from using tobacco and help adult smokers quit. The prevention fund enabled the CDC to launch the federal government’s first paid nationwide media campaign encouraging smokers to quit, called Tips from Former Smokers. Since its launch in 2012, this campaign has motivated about five million smokers to try to quit, helped 500,000 smokers to quit successfully and saved at least 50,000 lives, according to the CDC. At a cost of less than $400 for each year of life saved, it is considered a “best buy” in public health. The Tips campaign is a prime example of how smart investments in prevention can reduce disease and save lives.

We should be investing more, not less, in disease prevention – including in fighting tobacco use, the nation’s No. 1 cause of preventable death. Despite enormous progress in reducing smoking, tobacco use still kills more than 480,000 Americans each year and causes nearly a third of all deaths from cancer and heart disease. Tobacco use also costs our nation $170 billion annually in health care bills, more than 60 percent of which is paid by taxpayers through government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

To improve health and rein in health care costs, we need a strong national commitment to preventing diseases, not just treating them.

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