Legislature Poised to Abandon $60M Investment in Prevention Programs

BOSTON — The FY18 Budget Conference Committee Report, released on Friday, effectively eliminates the state’s first-in-the-nation Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund (PWTF), an innovative $60 million initiative established in 2012.

“To all of the Commonwealth’s residents, healthcare providers, and community leaders who have joined forces to tackle the root causes of poor health, glaring health inequities, and high healthcare costs, today’s decision is a major blow,” said Maddie Ribble, director of Public Policy for the Massachusetts Public Health Assoc.

As the budget was being voted on last Friday, an updated independent evaluation report was issued by Harvard Catalyst. The report concluded that “PWTF appears to be a very sound investment from the point of view of improving outcomes and controlling costs.” The report found “continued cost-effectiveness and return on investment of PWTF interventions” and noted increasingly positive outcomes data and increasing intervention reach. The report included new data and analysis since the first evaluation was released in January.

Funding for the program will run out by the end of the calendar year, shuttering nine regional partnerships that have provided effective disease- and injury-prevention services to high-risk children, seniors, and adults over the last four years.

“Walking away from this program will have clear and immediate impacts,” said Ribble. “It will lead to sicker kids and seniors, higher healthcare costs, and skilled community health workers without a job. And it will do nothing to change the glaring health inequities across race and income that plague our state.”

More than 200 jobs will be lost, she added. Regions that face the elimination of services include Berkshire County, as well as Quincy and Weymouth, Lynn, the Metrowest area, Boston, Worcester, Cape Cod, and New Bedford.

A bipartisan majority of both the House and the Senate — more than 120 legislators in total — supported a proposal to continue the program’s work, and a provision was included the Senate budget to continue the Trust Fund. The Senate budget provision was supported by healthcare provider associations including the Mass. Health and Hospitals Assoc., the Mass. League of Community Health Centers, and the Mass. Medical Society, among others.

An advisory board appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker, representing business, insurer, hospital, academic, and other partners, unanimously recommended further investment. A standalone bill is pending before the Public Health Committee and could represent another vehicle to continue the work of the Trust Fund.

“We urge the legislative leadership to reconsider the decision to dismantle this effective health program,” said Ribble. “There is still a short window to save these disease-prevention services for the people who depend on them by moving a bill through the committee process.”

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