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Victory for Prevention? Environmental Impacts on Health and the ACA – on Earth Day.

The Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health is dedicated to promoting good public policy that enhances the health and wellbeing of women in the state of Wisconsin. Our blog has served as a way to build the support for meaningful health reform implementation by Raising Wisconsin Women’s Voice for health care reform. The following guest blog is brought to you by a fellow Wisconsinite, who is Raising her Voice for the same goal: 

Victory for Prevention? Environmental Impacts on Health and the ACA – on Earth Day.

By Mary Ann Swissler, Madison, WI,


Though not co-pays or premiums, there’s no doubt that polluted air and water exact a high price on our health. Still, the arguments over how to deal with that part of the health care equation have gone back and forth for decades. But now the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has changed the rules of the game to a “do no harm” guiding principle.

Realizing the benefits of preventative health care, the ACA created the National Prevention Council, who issued their National Prevention Strategy last year.

The National Prevention Strategy includes a variety of action steps in an effort to improve quality and accessible care, and to lower overall health care costs including increasing the availability of health professionals to “identify, prevent, and reduce environmental health threats.  Clinicians can provide information and counseling on how to prevent, treat, and manage environmental-related exposures. Through Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units, Federal agencies are partnering with the health care community to help clinicians assist parents in addressing environmental health concerns (e.g., indoor air pollutants, lead, mercury, and pesticides).”

Do No Harm. This principle decides what’s polluting based on a preponderance of research evidence, instead of the one-to-one comparison demanded by peer-reviewed scientific evidence.

If all goes well, and that’s a big if considering our political climate favoring polluters, we can turn back the tide of toxins in the environment. This isn’t pessimism or even paranoia; it took decades for the new federal mercury standards to become law, according to an U.S. Environmental Protection Agency statement.

No new enforcement powers would be granted for the clean air/water regulations to the U.S. Health and Human Services, who oversees healthcare reform and the National Prevention Strategy, according to an emailed statement for this article. The Office of the Surgeon General, who administers the Strategy, stated:

“The recommendations and actions in the Strategy build upon, and complement, existing federal strategies, plans, and guidelines to improve health.” No implementation plan has been released, according to the Surgeon General.

The statement also explained the genesis of the National Prevention Council’s involvement in national healthcare reform: “(It) was established to improve the nation’s health through federal leadership and coordination among Federal agencies. The National Prevention Council, comprised of 17 Federal agency heads and chaired by the Surgeon General, is currently working on an implementation plan that includes both departmental and cross-departmental actions.”

The raw ambition of this plan alone is exciting. Still, here are my recommendations:

1.      Place environmental engineers on this prevention strategy. They’ll find solutions for industries and not just hand down edicts from on high. Face it, environmentalists—we won. All that’s left is cleaning up the environment and implementing good practices to keep it that way. It will be a long slog but we now have public health laws on our side.

2.      Address environmental racism and low-income biases. Incinerators, for example, are more likely to find homes in politically weak neighborhoods, which not coincidentally are where racial minorities and the low income live.

3.      Stress job-creating abilities and have fighting words ready when attacked by moneyed interests. Better yet, sell it to the American public now, emphasizing the state and local impacts. Otherwise, it’s not real.

The truth is pollution controls don’t cut into job creation. Instead they cut into short-term corporate profits meaning companies don’t plough their profits back into their operations. Hence they’re against pollution controls.

4.      Create freedom from the whims of Congress. Last year’s adoption of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will force America’s dirtiest power plants to dramatically cut the most toxic air contaminants. But these life-saving standards can be overturned with a Congressional Review Act. The President ought to have the ultimate authority not the moods of a compromised Congress.

5.      Create incentives for business, not only penalties. With all the billions collected in fines each year, at least some ought to be earmarked for businesses to invest in environmental cleanup technologies for their offending business practices. It could do wonders for their quarterly financial statements and thus their motivation to do good.

**The views in the post are those of the guest blogger alone, and are not endorsed by Raising Wisconsin Women’s Voices or the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health**


If you would like to submit a guest blog for the Raising Wisconsin Women’s Voices blog, consider the following criteria and know that RWWV reserves the right to edit or reject any submission:

  • Try to keep the blog to around 500 words.
  • Write on ways Wisconsin women are being impacted by the Affordable Care Act – in order to raise awareness of and support for the law.
  • Submissions must be non-partisan and non-electoral.


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