Raising Our Voices on Capitol Hill
In early March, NACCHO hosted a Week of Congressional Action to support local health departments’ (LHDs’) efforts to engage policymakers on the important work LHDs do to keep people healthy and safe. As part of that week, NACCHO hosted a “Hill Day” and organized the charge for over 40 public health officials, state association leaders, and Big Cities Health Coalition members from across the nation to meet with nearly 90 Members of Congress. The day’s discussions centered on the state of public health in their communities and the unique challenges they face.
During many of these meetings, the importance of funding the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was front and center. Advocates spoke to Members of Congress and their staff at length about the importance of CDC programs (e.g., Public Health Emergency Preparedness; 317 Immunization Program; Diabetes, Heart Disease and Stroke prevention; Antimicrobial Resistance) for their communities, along with the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). “The work local health departments do is vital to protect and improve the health of our communities. At a time where many of the strides made under the Affordable Care Act are being threatened, elevating the potential impacts on California’s departments is critical,” said Michelle Gibbons, Executive Director of the County Health Executives Association of California (CHEAC).
NACCHO members and state associations of county and city health officials (SACCHOs) also discussed the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF) – which, if repealed, would result in a $900 million (or 12%) budget cut for CDC – as well as the importance of preserving the prevention-related components of the ACA, including first dollar coverage for vaccines. “Tennessee is a state that values and supports public health. The congressional staffers paid close attention to the potential impacts of elimination of the Prevention and Public Health Fund on front-line health protection against vaccine-preventable disease and other threats,” said Bill Paul, MD, MPH, Director of the Metro Public Health Department in Nashville.
“The elimination of the Prevention and Public Health Fund and the imposition of far-reaching changes to Medicaid would result in less funding to states and an increased number of uninsured, adversely impacting the people we serve,” added Gibbons.
Notching a Victory for Public Health
Not long after the Week of Congressional Action, in a major victory for health care access and public health, the American Health Care Act (AHCA) was pulled from the House floor before a final vote due to a shortage of votes necessary to pass the bill. The failure of the bill means, at least for now, that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) largely remains intact, along with the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF). This result was due to your vigilance, persistence and commitment to save the PPHF and the critical public health funding and provisions along with it. The contributions of NACCHO members who called, wrote, and met with Members of Congress to raise awareness proved influential on Congress. But with a new iteration of the bill in development, the ACA and the PPHF are still under threat.
As such, NACCHO members must continue to communicate the value of ACA’s prevention components and PPHF’s programs like childhood lead poisoning prevention, immunizations and epidemiology, and lab capacity grants. While it might seem intimidating or difficult to reach out to elected officials, many states have Congressional delegations that are ready and willing to listen.
“We are extremely fortunate in Connecticut to have a Congressional delegation that supports public health and values the work that we do to protect the health of our communities,” said Jennifer Kertanis, MPH, Director of Farmington Valley Health District. “This year more than ever, we were asked to provide real stories regarding the implications of funding cuts and potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act on people living in our communities. It is amazing how accessible our Congressmen and women are and it is incumbent upon all of us to reach out and share these stories and advocate for public health.”
Sustaining Our Momentum
Public health needs NACCHO’s local leaders to continue sharing their stories and experiences to protect public health funding and programming. Subscribe to News from Washington for the latest legislative updates, and use NACCHO’s Legislative Action Center to make your voice heard and take action to urge Members of Congress to protect the PPHF. For more information on how you can advocate for local public health, contact Eli Briggs, Senior Director of Government Affairs at NACCHO.