Power of Prevention: Investing in Colorado’s Health

The following guest post is written by Bob Mook, Editorial Manager at the Colorado Health Foundation. This post comes particularly at a useful time when the Institute of Medicine recently came out with a report on the need for better funding for public health.

If you read Pulse + Signal regularly, you already know about the value of prevention in improving health.

Unfortunately, prevention can be a “hard sell” to those who don’t follow the health sector closely. In Colorado, as in other parts of the country, budget cuts are the norm for businesses and government. Increasingly, money is the “common language” people use and understand in these lean economic times.


As health costs and insurance premiums continue to escalate, there’s been a lot of discussion about cutting costs and reducing demand for health care services. After all, no single entity has unlimited resources to devote to health care.

While many cuts are driven by economic reality, efforts to skimp on prevention funding may prove “pennywise and pound-foolish,” according to “Prevention: Strong Investments in Colorado’s Health”(PDF), a supplement of the 2011 Colorado Health Report Card. The Report Card is published by the Colorado Health Foundation in collaboration with the Colorado Health Institute, to gauge the state’s progress in health. The Foundation also uses the Report Card to identify priority areas for grantmaking investments.

Though Colorado often gets kudos as a healthy state (no doubt because of its pleasant climate and abundant outdoor recreational activities), the latest Report Card illustrates that our grades are merely “fair to middling.”

For example, though Colorado has the “leanest” adult population of the 50 states, our obesity rate rose from 19 to 22 percent between 2010 and 2011. With the increase, Colorado lost the distinction of being the only state in the nation with an obesity rate lower than 20 percent. One study estimates the economic
impact of obesity for Colorado at $1.7 billion a year. Furthermore, the Report Card shows we lost ground in other important areas, including prenatal care (where we rank No. 31 among states) and dental care (where we fell to No. 38). All of these factors contribute to declining health for Coloradans and adversely
higher health costs for individuals who reside here.

While many of the results from the Report Card don’t bode well for Colorado in the short term, prevention offers a bright ray of hope for improving those grades in the future. The Report Card supplement shows that investing in evidence-based public health programs could substantially reduce health care costs in Colorado over time while improving the health of our residents.

Case in point: One study estimates that an annual investment of $10 per Coloradan in community-based prevention initiatives could save more than $232 million annually in health care costs after five years – a $5.05 return for every $1 invested. Yet, despite this potential cost savings, public health represents a small portion (less than 5 percent) of every dollar spent on health care in the United States.

The supplement highlights the benefits of vaccinations (which saved $5 for every dollar invested and about $11 in additional costs to society), Nurse-Family Partnership programs (which save society $5.70 for every dollar invested) and worksite wellness (one study showed that for every dollar spent on wellness programs, overall medical costs fell by $3.27). Bob Mook

In addition to those encouraging findings about prevention, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has identified 10 “Winnable Battles” in public health – many of which are highlighted in the Report

Though the Report Card contains some disheartening statistics, the good news is that investing in prevention could greatly improve quality and reduce costs in Colorado and nationwide.

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