Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) released a new public opinion survey yesterday which finds that Americans rank prevention as the most important health care reform priority, and overwhelmingly support increased funding for prevention programs to reduce disease and keep people healthy. In the poll, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Public Opinion Strategies, 70 percent of Americans ranked investing in prevention between an eight and 10 on a scale of zero to ten, where zero means “not at all an important health care priority” and 10 means “very important.” Forty-six percent rated prevention 10 out of 10. Overall, prevention was rated higher than all other proposals, including providing tax credits to small businesses and prohibiting health insurers from denying coverage based on health status.

"This survey underscores what I have been saying from the outset: If we pass comprehensive health reform that extends coverage but does nothing to reform our broken system by emphasizing prevention and public health, then we will have failed. And we do not intend to fail," said Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA). "We know that prevention and wellness efforts are a key to reducing costs within a reformed health care system. And they will be a centerpiece of the reform effort underway on Capitol Hill."

"This report shows that the American people believe prevention and wellness are the cornerstones of a high performing health care system. And they're right," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont). "Today, we spend nearly $800 billion on health problems that are directly linked to lifestyle and poor health habits each year —about one third of our total health care spending. Simply put, that's too much. Reforming our system to focus on prevention will drive down costs and produce better health outcomes. That's why it is so important that we pass comprehensive health care reform this year."

More than three-quarters of Americans (76 percent) support increasing funding for prevention programs that provide people with information and resources and creating policies that help people make healthier choices. Investing in prevention is popular across the political spectrum, with 86 percent of Democrats, 71 percent of Republicans, and 70 percent of Independents supporting investing more in prevention.

Americans believe the nation needs to put more emphasis on prevention (59 percent) rather than thinking there needs to be more emphasis on treatment (15 percent), by nearly a four to one ratio. This represents a significant shift toward prevention over the last two decades — in 1987, only 45 thought there should be greater emphasis on prevention. The poll, which reflects the responses from 1,014 registered voters, was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Public Opinion Strategies from May 7 to 12, 2009, and is available at www.healthyamericans.org. The margin of error was +/- 3.1 percent.