Prevention is an investment opportunity in our nation's future: for individuals, for community groups, for businesses, and for government. When we have this kind of opportunity to make a difference, it is incumbent upon us to embrace it wholeheartedly and take action.
Tommy G. Thompson
On June 20, 2002, President George W. Bush announced his HealthierUS Initiative, calling on government officials, business leaders, communities, health care providers, churches and civic organizations, to come together as partners in helping Americans live longer, better and healthier lives. HealthierUS identifies four key health-protection objectives for a healthier America: increased physical activity, responsible dietary habits, increased use of preventive health screenings, and healthy choices concerning alcohol, tobacco, drugs and safety.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) took up the President's challenge and Secretary Thompson launched Steps to a HealthierUS, a bold initiative that mobilizes the resources of HHS in collaboration with outside organizations to promote healthy habits and chronic disease prevention. Prevention: A Blueprint for Action, the latest activity in the HHS Steps Initiative, outlines simple steps that individuals and interested groups can take to promote healthy lifestyles and encourage healthy behavior.
The Steps initiative is founded on a growing body of research showing that small, simple steps can often prevent or control chronic diseases. Its goal is to reverse the growth in the number of people suffering from diseases like asthma, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and stroke, as well as factors that contribute to them such as obesity and tobacco use. The intent of Steps to a HealthierUS is to reach the broadest number of Americans by using multiple approaches and involving groups and organizations to foster health, physical activity and good nutrition. To date, these approaches have focused on communities, businesses and organizations, and the actions that they can take to influence individuals’ choices and actions to improve health. The HHS prevention effort and Steps to a HealthierUS have many components:
- Grants to Communities: As the cornerstone of the Steps initiative, HHS currently provides a total of $13.7 million for twelve cooperative agreements to establish community-wide partnerships to improve the health and well-being of individuals by encouraging people to maintain physically active lifestyles and make healthy lifestyle choices.
- Roundtable Discussions: The Secretary hosted a series of Roundtable discussions, which brought together interested stakeholders including academia, insurers, business executives, health care providers, and researchers. The purpose of these roundtables was to highlight the importance of prevention and specifically discuss best approaches to stem the tide of chronic diseases and encourage healthy lifestyles - regular physical activity and balanced diets. The roundtables also identified obstacles to adopting healthy habits.
- Prevention Town hall: The Secretary hosted a Prevention Town hall in Austin, Texas in 2003. The goal of the town hall was to engage stakeholders in a discussion of the importance of health promotion and disease prevention. Featured experts identified successful approaches to foster healthy behaviors.
- Secretary’s Challenge--Steps to a HealthierHHS: This is a HHS worksite health promotion program encouraging department employees to become more physically active. This voluntary initiative promotes the benefits of a healthy lifestyle by challenging employees to be on the move -- at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week for six weeks. Nearly 800 employees participated and 25 percent completed the pilot program in the Washington, DC area. The Secretary plans to take this challenge to all HHS employees and other federal departments soon.
- Prevention Summit: Held on April 15-16, 2003 in Baltimore, Maryland, the Steps to a HealthierUS: Putting Prevention First Summit focused attention on the urgency of prevention and on promising approaches for tackling key challenges. At this inaugural conference, the Secretary laid out his priorities and programs for Steps to a HealthierUS. The second annual summit was held on April 29-30, 2004 in Baltimore, Maryland.
- Awards for Innovation: Another component of the Steps initiative is the Steps Innovation in Prevention Awards Program. In December 2003, HHS awarded eight Steps Innovation Awards in seven categories, to groups and organizations recognizing their accomplishments and highlighting the concrete health improvements that each has achieved.
- Partnerships: Another aspect of the Steps initiative is the Partnerships program where HHS seeks to work with other public and private sector organizations to support and promote healthier living. It is designed to encourage other organizations to follow the lead of the Innovation Award recipients.
- Secretarial Workgroups and the Blueprint for Action: While recognizing the importance of many other diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and asthma, the Secretary established five senior staff workgroups on specific areas that were identified as presenting particular opportunities for cross-Departmental coordination and that are central to advancing health promotion and disease prevention: overweight and obesity, diabetes, tobacco, media and messages, and health literacy. This work provided the basis for the Blueprint for Action.
- Initial Preventive Physical Examination and Other New Medicare Benefits: The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act (MMA) of 2003 establishes coverage of a one-time “Welcome to Medicare Physical Examination” within 6 months of a beneficiary’s first coverage under Part B, with the goal of health promotion and disease detection. The benefit covers a physical exam (including measurement of height, weight and blood pressure, and an electrocardiogram) and includes education, counseling and referral with respect to screening and other preventive services. The effective date is January 1, 2005, for new beneficiaries whose coverage period under Medicare Part B begins on or after such date. The MMA also adds coverage for cardiovascular and diabetes screening for Medicare beneficiaries, which also begin on January 1, 2005.
This report provides an overview of these efforts. First, it highlights the problems and challenges in these areas. Then, based on a series of roundtable discussions between the Secretary and various interested stakeholders, it delineates specific action steps that individuals, communities, insurers, employers, healthcare providers, and other public and private entities can take. Finally, it profiles HHS activities that address these challenges, reports on progress and accomplishments, and identifies opportunities for additional action. This Blueprint for Action will create a template for collaborative efforts to improve the health and well-being of all Americans.