Public Health Department Funding
By Nar Ramkissoon
Report Title: Investing in America's Health: A State-by-State Look at Public Health Funding and Key Health Facts
Published by: Trust for America's Health
Released: April 2013
Trust for America’s Health has just released a must-read public health report with a number of eye-opening statistics about the state of public health departments in America. Though public health departments and their services may be more important than ever before, the report paints a picture of stagnant or decreasing funding that is unable to keep up with the demand for services.
According to Trust for America’s Health, public health departments:
“Help improve the health of communities, since they are responsible for finding ways to address the systemic reasons why some communities are healthier than others and for developing policies and programs to remove obstacles that get in the way of making healthy choices possible.”
Local health departments are responsible for immunizations and vaccinations in their communities, which are closely tied to the amount of funding they receive. Their work can also help make sure playgrounds are safer, school lunches are more nutritional, and that there are more public ways to exercise. With proper funding, these agencies can help reduce obesity and chronic disease in their communities.
Local health departments receive funding from three sources: the federal government, state governments, and local governments. Each source’s funds have different objectives, and each is vital to public health. According to the report, the federal government has the obligation to act when health threats span multiple states and in response to emergencies a state can’t properly respond to. State and local governments have the obligation to investigate and diagnose health threats, while educating and protecting the public from them.
Despite their importance, federal funding of local health departments has remained stagnant for the last few years, and has actually seen a large drop if you look back farther. In 2005, federal funding reached a high of $7.3 billion, but has dropped to $6.1 billion as of last year. It’s not much better at the state or local levels for funding either. 29 States lowered funding from 2011 to 2012, with 23 states decreasing budgets in each of the last two years. The per-capita spend for states has dropped from $33.71 to $28.40 over the past 5 years. Adding to that, more than 45,000 local health department jobs have been lost during that same span. The report is filled with more stats relating to funding and chronic disease that definitely deserve attention.
The report also lays out a number of recommendations to help local health departments continue to function properly. The most obvious is more funding, which is self-explanatory. Their second recommendation is to completely reexamine how the country handles local health with a number of proposals. They recommend making funding more flexible based on a department’s core competencies, which will increase flexibility and accountability for the money being spent. They also recommend setting basic thresholds every state must meet to ensure every citizen across the country is treated with equal care. Lastly, they recommend that public health departments become more visible in the community through partnerships to increase awareness.
Public health agencies are not powerless in the face of budget cuts either. The departments can make the most of the situation by doing more to increase their own revenues too. These clinics can implement smarter insurance claims processes and billing programs to increase revenue by up to 70%. Upp Technology offers public health clinics a free revenue evaluation to help ensure revenue is maximized as well. As the government continues to tighten budgets to help reduce debts, smarter billing programs for the public health industry should have a profound impact on community health.
The public health funding report was published by Trust for America’s Health, a non-profit and non-partisan organization that works to make disease prevention and community health a national priority; and was funded by a grant from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.