The unveiling today of a National Prevention Strategy marks a new level of federal coordination aimed at improving American’s health and reducing health care costs. The plan goes far beyond vaccines and blood-pressure tests to stress the importance of addressing underlying factors, such as the environment where we live, work and play. It’s great to be hearing this message repeatedly from our leaders in Washington and to see the importance attached to eliminating health disparities, which is one of four “strategic directions” in the plan.

Seventeen federal agencies collaborated with stakeholders and experts to create the 122-page blueprint for action by the federal government as well as states, communities, businesses, nonprofits and individuals. Required under the Affordable Care Act, the National Prevention Strategy will guide spending from the National Prevention Fund, also created by the ACA, as well as spending from other sources.

The blueprint also sets out seven priority areas, including two that have historically gotten short shrift — enhancing mental health and preventing substance abuse.

What does all this mean for our work? Foremost, it helps bolster the third leg of the three-legged stool that we believe is the smart way to control health costs – along with reducing waste and occasional bad care in Medicaid and Medicare, and cutting prices and high administrative costs in the private sector. To cite a statistic in the blueprint, increasing use of preventive services, including tobacco cessation screening, alcohol abuse screening and aspirin use, to 90 percent of the recommended levels could save $3.7 billion each year in medical costs.

Secondly, it identifies specific activities – from policy and environmental changes to communications and clinical care and provides the evidence to back them up. This is a useful guide for everyone working in prevention, whether they focus on clean air, healthy homes or the cultural competence of health care providers. It also sets out measures of progress, such as reducing the number of Americans who die from major preventable illnesses, that can help us hold everyone accountable.

For those eager for more details, here are the four strategic directions:

  • —  Building Healthy and Safe Community Environments: Prevention of disease starts in our communities and at home; not just in the doctor’s office.
  • — Expanding Quality Preventive Services in Both Clinical and Community Settings: When people receive preventive care, such as immunizations and cancer screenings, they have better health and lower health care costs.
  • — Empowering People to Make Healthy Choices: When people have access to actionable and easy-to-understand information and resources, they are empowered to make healthier choices.
  • — Eliminating Health Disparities: By eliminating disparities in achieving and maintaining health, we can help improve quality of life for all Americans.
And here are the seven priority areas:
  • — Tobacco free living
  • — Preventing drug abuse and excessive alcohol use
  • — Healthy eating
  • — Active living
  • — Injury and violence-free living
  • — Reproductive and sexual health
  • — Mental and emotional wellbeing

— Alice Dembner, Deputy Policy Director