Study: More Public Health Spending Results in Healthier People

Increased public health spending results in healthier people, especially in communities with fewer resources.

Increased public health spending results in healthier people, especially in communities with fewer resources, according to new research published in Health Affairs.

“Our findings suggest that a connection between spending and health outcomes does exist, although it’s important to note that resources must be successfully aimed at activities that target at-risk population groups to ensure that spending is resulting in positive outcomes,” co-author Glen P. Mays, PhD, said in a press release. Mays is a professor in health services and systems research at the University of Kentucky College of Public Health.

At UK, Mays is affiliated with the National Coordinating Center for Public Health Services and Systems Research, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Sharla A. Smith, a research associate in the Department of Health Policy and Management, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, co-authored the study.

The study considered if changes in spending by local public health agencies over a 13-year period contributed to changes in rates of community mortality from preventable causes of death. These included infant mortality and deaths due to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.

The researchers found that for every 10% increase in local public health spending, mortality rates from the four causes of death analyzed dropped anywhere from 1% to almost 7%.

“In light of the Affordable Care Act that authorized the largest expansion in federal public health spending in decades, coupled with an economic downturn that has precipitated large cuts in state and local government support for public health activities, it’s critical to take a data-driven look at whether public health spending translates to improved health of our population,” Mays said.

Little work has been done in the area of the impact of public health spending on population health. The researchers analyzed changes in spending patterns and mortality rates within the service areas of the nation’s nearly 3,000 local public health agencies.

“Although a definitive causal link between spending and mortality cannot be drawn, the study does provide compelling evidence that communities must pay attention to more than local medical resources and interventions, but also to the resources invested in local public health activities to truly make a difference in the health of their people,” Mays said.

“Public health spending varies widely around the country. For example, per capita state public health spending ranged from a low of less than $4 in Nevada to a high of more than $171 in Hawaii,” according to the press release. “Local public health spending varied even more significantly, ranging from less than $1 per capita to more than $200 per capita, with the median spent around $36 per person.”

SourceEvidence Links Increases in Public Health Spending To Declines in Preventable Deaths [Health Affairs]