Chicago health commissioner: The ACA saves lives and we shouldn't abandon it
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For many people, the signature accomplishment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the 20 million additional Americans that gained access to health insurance.

But what is less recognized is the ACA's transformation of the entire health system. These changes included a sharper focus on preventive care, a departure from the fee for service payment models that incentivize procedures, and the adoption of payment to quality, not quantity, of care.

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While we are hopeful that much of this remains in place regardless of what the future of ACA looks like, one key lever must be retained to continue the progress made toward prevention of many serious and costly diseases: the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF).

 

This fund directs federal dollars to state and local public health agencies to conduct vital prevention initiatives ranging from preventing lead poisoning in homes, to detecting and controlling infectious disease outbreaks before they can spread.

These funds have played a critical role in combating a little recognized public health threat known as Human Papillomavirus (HPV) here in Chicago. Guided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), our nation’s leading public health agency, recommendation that young girls and boys receive the first dose of the life-saving, cancer-preventing HPV vaccine at age eleven, Chicago has taken steps to protect our children from HPV-induced cancers. And we could not have done it without the PPHF funding that we received in 2013.

Using these dollars, we launched a comprehensive public awareness campaign to provide direct education to physicians, educating them on how to discuss the benefits of the vaccine with parents and children and to raise awareness of the vaccine among parents through radio, television, billboard and online advertisements. The efforts worked.

Prior to the PPHF grant, less than half of teenage girls and fewer than 20 percent of teenage boys had received any protection from HPV-induced cancers. Today, nearly 70 percent of teenage girls and boys in Chicago have received the first dose of the vaccine. This is another example of how this critical provision of the ACA has helped make a real, life-saving difference.

Although this increase in vaccine acceptance was substantial, today only about 50 percent of girls and 40 percent of boys have received all three doses — suggesting that our work is far from over in protecting our children from HPV.

Fortunately, Chicago has received an additional grant that will allow us to redouble our efforts so that we can ensure every Chicago teen receives all doses of this life saving vaccine. Without this additional PPHF support, this focused initiative would not have been possible.

We aren’t alone in relying on this critical funding that makes up 13 percent of CDC’s overall budget. States, cities and counties across the nation today rely on this funding to make investments in disease prevention that make our residents healthier and reduce health care costs.   

The ACA saves lives, not only in giving millions of people access to health care services, but in ways most people outside of the public health world do not know. Can we improve this landmark legislation? Absolutely. But in so doing we cannot abandon the progress we have made.

As a mother and pediatrician, I am proud to celebrate my children’s vaccinations as one more step toward adulthood. As an American, I am urging officials and legislators to continue investing in the PPHF, so we can celebrate the health of every child for generations to come.

Julie Morita is the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH). 


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