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Public health experts ID four key health issues for Obama to address

Gun violence prevention tops the list

As President Obama embarks on his second term, the American Public Health Association (APHA) is urging him to press forward on four major issues that carry tremendous public health implications: gun violence prevention, climate change, public health funding and implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Gun violence prevention

APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD, said the administration should pursue a sensible, comprehensive gun violence prevention plan that includes clarifying the authority of CDC and other federal agencies to research gun violence prevention, supporting common-sense measures to keep firearms from falling into the wrong hands and improving mental health services to those in need. 

Climate change

Benjamin said climate change is increasing, posing a costly threat to human health and well-being from diminished air quality that leads to higher rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses to more frequent extreme weather events.

“The health burden is particularly acute among vulnerable populations, including the elderly, young children, and the poor,” said Benjamin. He added that the EPA should maintain its authority under the Clean Air Act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to safeguard the public from negative health effects of climate change. Additionally, Congress and the president should ensure that the CDC has the necessary resources to support state and local public health departments in their efforts to help communities adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Funding for public health programs

Public health funding is another priority identified by APHA.

“From immunizations to food safety and chronic disease prevention to medical research, public health has long felt the strain of painful cuts in federal and state funding.” Benjamin said short-term savings would lead to long-term health and human costs, and urged Congress and the administration to consider the value of prevention and public health as they work to avoid sequestration and develop deficit reduction legislation.

“Spending on public health is not the cause of our deficit and reducing the funding further will not bring the budget into balance,” said Benjamin. “A strong, sustainable public health system is key to turning around rising chronic disease rates and related health spending.”

The Affordable Care Act

And finally, Benjamin said the The Affordable Care Act will address some of the biggest challenges facing our nation’s health today, including escalating costs, uneven quality, discriminatory health care insurance practices, a growing uninsured population and a shrinking primary care workforce.

“In its three short years, the law has made enormous progress to meet our nation’s urgent health needs through the work of Community Transformation Grants and key insurance reform and quality assurance rules already implemented. Yet, key elements of the law are still under siege. Having already been cut by $6.25 billion last year, the Prevention and Public Health Fund, a mandatory and well-designated investment in the future of our nation’s health, remains vulnerable to additional attacks this year. APHA urges Congress and the president to support and defend the fund and other prevention and health promotion components of the law.”

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