The Missing Sound Bite in the Presidential Campaign


When the presidential candidates are challenged with voter questions on how they’ll drive down the cost of healthcare, the word “prevention” should pop right out.

Personal tales of heavy premiums, rising deductibles, and increased out-of-pocket healthcare costs are cropping up all along the campaign trail.

Voters are complaining that they’re spending more of their own money on healthcare than ever before. And businesses have been saying for years that they can’t sustain current healthcare costs.

Over about a 10-year period, the percentage of workers enrolled in high-deductible employer-sponsored plans has more than quadrupled, from 10 percent in 2006 to 46 percent in 2015. And a family of four now pays roughly $10,000 in medical expenses, or about 19 percent of its yearly income, with deductibles between $1,000 and $3,000, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

At the same time, more than half of all Americans (59 percent, or 190 million-plus people) have one or more chronic health conditions, which alone cost plenty.

Someone diagnosed with a chronic illness can expect a 12 percent drop in earnings at the time of onset; and that loss increases to a sustained 18 percent over time. Realize, too, that these lost wages are on top of the financial load these individuals already carry in disease-related medical costs. All told, treating people with chronic diseases accounts for 86 percent of our nation’s healthcare spending.

The thing is, a great deal of this economic burden could be alleviated if our healthcare system prioritized prevention and Americans followed healthier living habits.

After all, many chronic diseases are avoidable, or can be delayed and better managed.

At least 80 percent of all heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, along with more than 40 percent of cancers could be prevented if we would take action to eliminate the four key risk factors known to fuel chronic diseases: physical inactivity, an unhealthy diet, tobacco use, and too much alcohol.

A recent study by IHS, commissioned by the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease (PFCD), put a dollar amount on the savings our nation could recoup if we made prevention a priority. The study asserts we could save $116 billion a year by assuming modest changes in healthy behavior and healthcare delivery, including increased physical activity, reduced smoking and obesity, and improved treatment rates.

The bottom line is this: If something doesn’t give, chronic diseases could cost our country $2 trillion in medical expenses and another $794 billion in lost employee productivity each and every year between now and 2030.

For the next several months, all eyes will be on the presidential candidates and Congress.

We need them to use that window of opportunity to speak up on these issues.

We want them to speak up on these issues.

In fact, most Americans (86 percent) think the next president and Congress need to find better ways to prevent, treat, and cure chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s, according to a Morning Consult poll. Half of voters even say prevention and better management of these diseases should be a top priority for reducing healthcare costs.

Creating an environment in this country that fosters prevention and a healthy American lifestyle requires the attention of our political leaders, supportive public health policies, and meaningful legislation that makes it easier for every American to be physically active and sustain a healthy lifestyle.

So let’s lay it out. Here’s what we need our national leaders to do:

Presidential candidates: Talk about prevention and how we need to turn healthcare spending on its head. In the end, it will make no difference what the structure of the healthcare payment system looks like if we keep hemorrhaging money on lost wages, lost productivity, and avoidable medical spending for the treatment of chronic health conditions that could have been prevented in the first place. Chronic diseases create financial burdens that pull down American families, American businesses, and the U.S. economy.

Members of Congress:  Adopt health policies and legislation that support health-promoting lifestyles. Simple, bi-partisan legislation that makes it easier for people to adopt and maintain healthy living habits can affect a meaningful difference in the lives of all Americans. The PHIT Act (Personal Health Investment Today Act), for example, gives people a financial break on healthy habits by letting them pay for fitness equipment, exercise DVDs, health club memberships, and youth sports league fees with pre-tax dollars from flexible spending (FSAs) and health savings accounts (HSAs).

The poet Virgil once wrote: “The greatest wealth is health.”

As we head deeper into this election year, we call on all political candidates and current political leaders to remember and act on this enduring truth. Our nation’s wellbeing depends on it.

Helen Durkin, JD, is Executive Vice President of Public Policy, International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.

Morning Consult