The American Public Health Association (APHA) is warning that tax legislation approved by Congress “will create a dangerous environment for public health in which millions fewer Americans are insured, key health programs and agencies are desperately underfunded and income inequality is dramatically worsened.”

In a statement, the APHA said the legislations’s repeal of the individual health insurance mandate will cause deep automatic cuts to key health programs like Medicare and the Prevention and Public Health Fund. The organization is urging Congress to immediately waive the automatic spending cuts created by the bill in order to protect the federal government’s ability to respond to and prevent threats to public health.

"Our nation’s health is in a precarious situation thanks to this partisan legislation," said Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of APHA. "Health agencies are already stretched too thin. This legislation will likely lead to less funding available for public health and other important discretionary programs, as Congress looks for ways to backfill the deficits created by tax cuts that mostly favor corporations and the wealthiest Americans.”

Benjamin likened the congressional action to a game of high-stakes poker. “Congress is gambling with public health by undercutting our ability to protect against infectious disease, stop the opioid crisis and tackle chronic conditions that are making Americans sick.”

The deficit expected to be created by the tax bill will trigger automatic spending cuts as soon as next year, and will – according to the APHA - include the complete elimination of the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which currently makes up 12 percent of the entire Centers for Disease Control and Prevention budget.

“Its elimination would cripple the public health workforce’s ability to respond to infectious disease outbreaks and continue critical prevention programs,” according to the APHA. “Cuts to other essential public health programs like Medicare would harm older adults and those who depend on government-funded health programs. APHA urges Congress to waive these budget rules to prevent these cuts immediately in the interest of their constituents’ health.”

The Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate will increase average health insurance premiums by about 10 percent in most years of the next decade.

“Without the individual mandate, millions will lose health insurance coverage, which will only undermine our progress in creating a healthier nation.”