Return on Investment

FDA Finally Proposes Updated Cigarette Warning Labels

In 2009 the Congress directed the FDA to create more graphic warning labels and mandate them on packs of cigarettes. In 2012, the FDA proposed 9 new more graphic labels. The tobacco industry sued the FDA arguing that the proposed new warning labels violated their 1st Amendment rights to free speech. Astonishingly, a 3 judge panel agreed because the propoised labels were crafted to evoke a strong emotional response rather than to educate consumers.

So it was back to the drawing board. Over the next few years the FDA didn't propose new labels, so some health groups sued the FDA in 2016 because they still hadn't complied with the 2009 law (now 10 years old). The health groups won, and the court ordered the FDA to come out with new draft warning labels by August with final ones in March of 2020.

You can read more about the new labels and look at them on the FDA website. Perhaps the new labels will be finally on packs of cigarettes next spring- more than 10 years after the law was passed and signed.

Using Public Health Policy to Boost Vaccine Coverage

Measles across the country have deteriorated to a level not seen in 30 years, and several states have recently taken direct action to implement policies to boost immunization coverage.

At the beginning of 2019, only California, Mississippi, and West Virginia had state laws that only allowed medical exemptions from their school attendance requirements. Now there are 3 more states like that.  This year Maine and New York passed laws that limit school vaccine exemptions to medical reasons.

 The Maine legislation (which will take effect on September 1, 2021) repeals the state’s religious and philosophical (personal belief) exemptions - but grandfathers in kids that have a non-medical exemption if the parents show that a healthcare provider was consulted about the benefits and risks of vaccinations.

The New York legislation (which took effect immediately) repealed their religious exemption (and has no grandfather clause). NY didn't have a persona exemption, so all they have now is a medical exemption for school attendance requirements.

Washington state removed their former philosophical exemption for the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine.

I’ve heard through the grapevine that Arizona state government will be working on a “Breakthrough Project” in the coming year that will have a core goal of improving Arizona’s decreasing immunization rates. 

“Breakthrough Projects” are something in the "Arizona Management System" (a Governor's Office Initiative) that is also a state agency scorecard metric.  Breakthrough Projects are supposed to: 1) align with an agency performance measure; 2) result in a sustainable success that addresses a stakeholder concern; and 3) require “a substantial design or re-design of a work process documented with an A3 project plan”.

I’ll stay tuned to get more information about what the ADHS has planned for the Breakthrough Project and include it in a future Policy Update.

New USPSTF Recommendations for HIV Will Have a Powerful Public Health Impact

Ever since the passage of the Affordable Care Act, a prevention model of health has been increasingly weaving its way into the fabric of traditional models of care.  That's because the ACA expanded the role of preventive services in the US health care delivery system via various incentives. 

For example, the “Category A & B” preventive services that are recommended by the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) are now included (at no cost to consumers) in all Qualified Health Plans. In addition, many employer-based and state Medicaid programs routinely cover Category A & B services once they're recommended by the USPSTF. 

The USPSTF is an independent, volunteer panel of experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine. The Task Force works to improve the health of all Americans by making evidence-based recommendations about clinical preventive services such as screenings, counseling services, and preventive medications.

The Task Force analyzes priority preventive health services and assigns the a letter grade (an A, B, C, or D grade or an "I Statement") based on the strength of the evidence and the balance of benefits and harms of the preventive service.

Currently, the USPSTF recommends 51 Category A & B Preventive Health Services - which include things like screening tests, counseling, immunizations, and preventive medications for adults, adolescents, and children. 

The preventive services that have an A or B grade are presented in alphabetical order and by the date they were recommended on the Task Force website.

This month they added 2 new recommendations related to HIV: 

You can browse the USPHS website and check out the preventive services that they have evaluated but got a lower grade. Most of the services are broken down by age, gender and other risk factors.

‘Opportunity Zones’ & Public Health

When you think about the tax bill passed by congress last year you probably think about the permanent reduction in corporate tax rates and changes in the person income tax standard deductions and stuff like that.  But there was a sleeper provision in the law that could influence the built environment and therefore public health.  It’s a provision in the law called ‘Opportunity Zone’ investment tax deferment.

The ‘Opportunity Zones’ part of the new tax law provides incentives to investors to put their money into areas designated by states as low income or underdeveloped.  The law lets investors defer (or eliminate) their capital gains tax obligation when they invest the money in a designated ‘Opportunity Zone’. If they hold the investment for 7 years, 15% of their capital gains liability can be written off.  If they hold the investment for 10 years, then their entire capital gain tax liability can be written off.

The theory is that geographically targeted tax cut opportunities will encourage new clusters of economic activity to form which has the potential to improve conditions that influence the social determinants of health within the designated ‘Opportunity Zones’.

There are very few conditions that are put on the program in terms of what is a qualifying investment, except that the investment must be within a state designated Opportunity Zone.  Developers must make a substantial improvement on the property in the first 30 months.  Investors need to show that 70% of their capital is in the opportunity zone and 50% of their activities.

The governor of each state decides where the Opportunity Zones are (they can name 25% of the qualifying low-income Census tracts as Opportunity Zones).  Our Governor delegated that decision to the Arizona Commerce Authority.  Arizona’s Opportunity Zone nominations were submitted to the US Treasury Department a few months ago and have already been approved.  Here’s the map of the Opportunity Zones Arizona selected.

A couple of months ago the U.S. Department of the Treasury released their guidance on the Opportunity Zone tax law provisions.  The Internal Revenue Service issued proposed regulations in October. 

The AZ Commerce Authority has some material on their website with a more in-depth view of Opportunity Zones including a Guidance Update Webinar Presentation and an Opportunity Funds Guidance Update Webinar Video October 2018.

One thing is clear- the incentives built into the Opportunity Zone parts of the tax bill are huge- and there will be billions of dollars moving into these Opportunity Zones in the coming years.  What remains to be seen is what impact the program will have on the built environment and economic opportunities in these areas and what public health impacts will occur – both good and bad – as a result of the investments that are made in these communities. 

Very few guardrails exist for what kinds of developments qualify for the tax deferral- and no doubt there will be some good things (affordable housing) and bad things (investments that don’t improve conditions) in Opportunity Zone communities in the coming years.

Tucson Voters Lead the Way

Last week Tucson voters approved Proposition 407 approving $225M in Bonds for improving the outdoor built environment.  The funds will be used over the coming years for playgrounds, sports fields, pools, splash pads, recreation centers, pedestrian pathways, bike pathways, and pedestrian & bike safety infrastructure. 

The plan includes 25 new splash pads, 22 new playgrounds and 17 shade structures installed at city parks in the next several years.  Tucson will be reopening 2 city pools that have been closed and will make renovations the 22 other public pools.  Improvements are also planned for sports fields, 28 new walking paths in parks, 26 new ramadas, 19 new restrooms and an amphitheater.

Safety and mobility projects will connect people to parks, schools, shopping and transportation. New sidewalks, enhanced major street crossings, off-street biking and walking paths and residential street traffic calming are also slated in the plan which will provide more than 210 km of enhancements across Tucson.

The improvements won’t happen overnight though.  The $225M in improvements is spread over 9 years.  You can learn more about the proposed Parks and Connections projects using Tucson’s Interactive Story Map.

Congrats to the voters of Tucson for investing in their built environment and creating more opportunities for folks to enjoy the outdoors and get some exercise!

Leveraging Doulas to Improve Birth Outcomes

Doulas are professionals who provides physical, emotional, and informational support to a woman throughout pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. Doula’s act as a facilitator between the laboring women and her physician by ensuring that mom and dad get the information they need in a way that they understand so they can make informed decisions. 

A growing body of evidence suggests that continuous support from doulas or other non-clinical labor support can improve birth outcomes for both mothers and infants, fewer preterm and low-birth weight infants, and reductions in cesarean sections. In fact, when doula services are included throughout the pregnancy and birth process, births cost less. A recent study found that when a doula is included in the process births cost an average of $986 less - including the doula service fee.

Currently, Minnesota and Oregon take advantage of the fact that doulas can reduce healthcare costs while improving outcomes in their state Medicaid programs. In the 2018 budget, Minnesota increased the reimbursement rates for doulas.  The new law also requires Oregon’s coordinated care organizations (which deliver Medicaid services) to provide information about how to access doula services online and through any printed explanations of benefits. The law tasked Oregon Medicaid with facilitating direct payments to doulas, which was addressed through rulemaking.  

Several organizations, such as DONA International, provide doula training and certification. Women can also choose to become certified as community-based doulas through HealthConnect One. This community-based doula program model, which has been replicated nationwide to serve unique populations, trains doulas to provide culturally sensitive pregnancy and childbirth education to underserved women in their own community. While all doula services can be beneficial, creating a standard for the training and certification of doulas may improve understanding and acceptance of doula care.

Looking for more info? Access this UA Issue Brief on Doula Coverage to Help Minimize Arizona’s Birth Woes

Who's a Doula?

By AzPHA Member Prashanthinie (Prashi) Mohan, MBA

Over the last few years, there has been more and more focus on the triple aim – improving patient experience, reducing costs, and improving population health. Accomplishing these goals requires the system to be creative and actively look for new approaches to lowering costs while improving outcomes.

Doulas are increasingly being recognized as a professional that can do just that. 

Several studies have shown that moms who have doula services during their pregnancy and delivery have fewer cesarean sections and epidurals, reduced premature births, higher rates and a longer duration of breastfeeding. In March 2014, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal medicine issued a consensus statement which explicitly stated that published data has indicated better labor and delivery outcomes when continuous support personnel such as doulas are used.

So, we’ve got better outcomes covered, what about lower costs?

Recent evidence on the return on investment for doulas is encouraging. In addition to improving birth outcomes, doula coverage can also be cost effective (if not cost saving) to Medicaid programs. Doula coverage can help reduce costs by lowering the rate of pre-term and cesarean deliveries. One study conducted across 10 states computed an average savings of $986 per doula supported birth.

Despite the evidence on doula-supported births, only 6% of U.S. women who give birth are estimated to have doula support. Low income women and women of color, who are the most likely groups to want doula services, may not be able to afford doula services, which can cost $500 to $750 per birth in Arizona.  Because few health plans currently reimburse for doula services, most women are unable to take advantage of the improved outcomes and enhanced birth experience that doulas provide.

Licensed and culturally trained doulas who are from the minority communities can not only provide emotional support during the prenatal period and the delivery process, but can also help facilitate key communication between the mother and her care providers.

The question is, what are we waiting for? Doulas have proven to be effective in improving birth outcomes cost effectively in other states in the U.S. It’s time Arizonans start looking into how doula services can be efficiently reimbursed for the mothers in our state.

New Public Health Return on Investment Report

AzPHA member J. Mac McCullough, PhD, MPH, who serves as an Assistant Professor at Arizona State University and Health Economist at Maricopa County Department of Public Health was commissioned by AcademyHealth to write a research synthesis examining the return on investment for public health funding.

It’s a very nice and concise report.  It’s available online on the AcademyHealth website.  Here are some excerpts from the report

Federal, state, and local agencies spend approximately $250 per person per year on the public health system, whereas more than $10,000 is spent on health care per person per year. Public health spending has been falling as proportion of total health spending since approximately 2000 and falling in inflation-adjusted terms since the Great Recession. These declines have resulted in cuts to the public health workforce and to public health program portfolios.

While linking public health and health care spending to improved health outcomes can be tricky, the body of evidence supporting prevention is strong. For example, we know that investment in tobacco cessation can save $2-3 for every $1 invested and that childhood vaccinations can save $5-11 for every $1 invested.

One especially relevant set of studies utilized a unique dataset of public health department expenditures in California. Researchers used instrumental variables to show that a $10 increase in per capita spending led to a 0.6 percent increase in the proportion of the population in very good or excellent health4 and reduced all cause mortality by 9.1 per 100,000.23 Researchers monetized these estimates to determine that every $1 invested in public health in California resulted in $67 to $88 of benefits to society.24

a 2017 systematic review of international studies found that spending for individual public health interventions, services, or policies had a median ROI of $14.30 per $1 invested.