Monday, June 20, 2011

A letter from APHA's Dr. Georges Benjamin

Dear public health colleagues,

In just a of couple days, APHA will officially convene its 2011 Midyear Meeting in Chicago with an exclusive focus on "Implementing Health Reform: A Public Health Approach." And the meeting couldn't come at a better time.

The work to transform the goals of health reform into on-the-ground realities is in full swing, and your expertise and experience as public health practitioners will be pivotal in ensuring that process leads not only to equitable access to health insurance, but to better health and well-being. We all know that simply having insurance is not enough — good health depends on myriad factors that happen inside and outside of the doctor's office and will require a comprehensive shift in how we, as a society, believe our health system should work.

For decades, the public health community has acted on and touted the value of prevention, for both its ability to produce positive health outcomes and curb the country's rising health care costs. The health reform law includes a number of provisions that align it with those values, such as requiring that insurers participating in state health insurances exchanges cover proven preventive services. The law also created the landmark $15 billion Prevention and Public Health Fund, money from which has already started to flow to community health efforts as well as work to address primary care shortages. This is all good news for public health, however the future is far from certain.

Already, attempts have been made to divert the billions earmarked for the Prevention and Public Health Fund and repeal the health reform law entirely. The governance and design of the state-based health insurance exchanges will be a key component in the success of health reform, and public health input is and will be significant in their creation and oversight. In addition, policy-makers may attempt to cut or eliminate effective public health programs under the assumption that health reform is a substitute for a resilient public health system. And, unfortunately, myths and falsehoods about health reform still abound.

Clearly, the roles for public health practitioners in health reform's success will be diverse, from education and promotion to surveillance and evaluation. Health reform may also mean big changes in the delivery of some traditional public health services and the need for public health to adapt quickly to the changing health care environment and gather the data needed to protect threatened public health programs. In Chicago, we've organized an interactive, in-depth meeting that will give you the tools you'll need to confront these challenges as well as take advantage of new opportunities to improve your community's health.

I look forward to seeing you in Chicago, hearing your ideas and learning from your experiences. I know that together we can turn the tides toward better health for all.


Georges Benjamin, MD, FACP, FACEP (E)
Executive Director
American Public Health Association

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