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Mass. Town Takes Steps to Trim Fat (Really), Healthcare Costs

Mass. Town Takes Steps to Trim Fat (Really), Healthcare Costs

Mimi Hall, USA TODAY

April 23, 2009

Kelle Shugrue’s 7-year-old son eats fresh fruit and vegetables at his public school, rides his bike along neighborhood paths and walked to school last week as part of a community effort to get kids moving.

The Shugrue family lives in Somerville, Mass., a Boston suburb hailed by health advocates for its seven-year investment in programs fighting childhood obesity and encouraging healthful living.

The model program is beginning to be replicated around the country, a small start on a huge task: preventing the onset of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease that now account for 75% of the nation’s health care spending.

As the Obama administration and Congress tackle an overhaul of the health care system, chronic disease looms as a major impediment to controlling costs.

According to the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, 45% of Americans — 133 million people — suffer from at least one chronic disease such as asthma or hypertension. Because many of the conditions are brought on or exacerbated by obesity, which has doubled nationwide since 1987, experts say they can be prevented or at least better managed.

“Improving the management of chronic disease is a critical component of our plan to drive down the skyrocketing cost of health care,” says Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office for Health Reform. “Two-thirds of Medicare spending is for beneficiaries with five or more chronic conditions.”

A down payment is coming.

In February, as part of the $800 billion economic stimulus package, Congress approved $1 billion for disease prevention and wellness programs. A third of that money is slated for immunizations; two-thirds for new programs to prevent chronic diseases.


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