Health reform: No divide over prevention initiatives

Published on
December 16, 2009

While reporting for a four-part series on the wide gap in life expectancies and disease rates between people in nearby neighborhoods – due to drastically different conditions and social status – I expected to find that health care reform legislation would do little to address this issue. The reform legislation, after all, is primarily about health care insurance. But I was surprised to find that, for the first time, Congressional legislation contains at least $3.4 billion to focus on improving health disparities. And this means that grants for improving neighborhood conditions – like hiring a security guard for a local park or bringing in a grocery store to an area without one - would qualify as a health promotion grant.

You can learn more about health care reform's role in pushing unprecedented disease prevention initiatives by dropping in the live, one-hour online chat from 8 a.m. PST (11 EST) on Thursday, Dec. 17, hosted by Bay Area News Group/Contra Costa Times. You can post questions for our distinguished guests, Dr. David Satcher, former U.S. Surgeon General and former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Rich Hamburg, deputy director of Trust for America's Health.

This is a first for Congress, as we describe in the fourth story in the series, and has broad bipartisan support. It turns out that minority members of the House are largely responsible for getting this language into the health care reform bill. This follows years of unsuccessful attempts to get Congress to approve - or even seriously consider - setting aside funds solely for reducing health disparities, which lead to far higher rates of diseases and premature death in poorer populations.

Satcher currently heads the Satcher Health Leadership Institute in Georgia, which trains public health leaders on strategies for reducing U.S. health disparities. The Trust for America's Health, a Washington D.C. nonprofit, is focused on expanding the role of disease prevention in health care policies.