Press Release: In a Major Step Backwards, Legislature Abandons Effective Prevention Programs

July 7, 2017
For Immediate Release

Contact: Maddie Ribble: 617-697-2107

In a Major Step Backwards, Legislature Abandons Effective Prevention Programs
Sicker People, Higher Health Care Costs, Laid off Community Health Workers to Result; Updated Evaluation Report Confirms Impacts On Health Outcomes And Costs

The FY18 Budget Conference Committee Report, released this morning, effectively eliminates the state’s first-in-the-nation Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund (PWTF), an innovative $60 million initiative established in 2012.

“To all of the Commonwealth’s residents, health care providers, and community leaders who have joined forces to tackle the root causes of poor health, glaring health inequities, and high health care costs, today’s decision is a major blow,” said Maddie Ribble, Director of Public Policy for the Massachusetts Public Health Association.

Funding for the program will run out by the end of the calendar year, shuttering nine regional partnerships that have provided effective services to high risk kids, seniors, and adults over the last four years.

“Walking away from this program will have clear and immediate impacts,” said Ribble. “It will lead to sicker kids and seniors, higher health care costs, and skilled community health workers without a job. And, it will do nothing to change the glaring health inequities across race and income that plague our state.”

And an independent evaluation released in January from Harvard Catalyst found strong impacts on health outcomes, cost effectiveness, and systems change – and recommended further investment. An updated version of the evaluation report, using data collected since January, was released today and found even stronger program impacts. The updated report concludes that “PWTF appears to be a very sound investment from the point of view of improving outcomes and controlling costs.” Key findings of the updated report include:

  • Continued cost-effectiveness and return on investment of PWTF interventions
  • Increasing intervention reach in PWTF communities
  • Continued success in controlled hypertension
  • Higher rates of blood pressure screening and controlled hypertension among populations with co-morbidities
  • Increasingly positive changes in blood pressure among hypertensives
  • Reductions in blood pressure across age levels and racial/ethnic groups
  • Further improvements in preventing CVD [cardiovascular disease] events

A bipartisan majority of both the House and the Senate – more than 120 legislators in total – supported a proposal to continue the program’s work, and a provision was included the Senate budget to continue the Trust Fund by closing a tax loophole on cheap flavored cigars that are marketed to children. The Senate budget provision was supported by the state’s major health care provider associations, including the MA Health and Hospitals Association, the MA League of Community Health Centers, and the MA Medical Society, among others.

An advisory board appointed by the Governor, representing business, insurer, hospital, academic, and other partners, unanimously recommended further investment.

A standalone bill is pending before the Public Health Committee and could represent another vehicle to continue the work of the Trust Fund. “We urge the legislative leadership to reconsider the decision to dismantle this effective health program,” said Ribble. “There is still a short window to save these disease prevention services for the people who depend on them by moving a bill through the committee process.”

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