Blueprint for a Healthier America 2016: Policy Priorities for the Next Administration and Congress

In this Blueprint for a Healthier America, TFAH presents key strategies for improving the health of Americans. The report calls for a new approach to health by prioritizing improving health and addressing major epidemics in the United States.

“It’s time for a sea change from our current sick care system to a true health system, where we focus on preventing disease and improving quality of life,” said Richard Hamburg, Interim CEO and President of TFAH.  “In the Blueprint, we highlight high-impact policies that could help spare millions of Americans from preventable health problems and save billions in avoidable healthcare costs – if we make them a priority.” 

The report highlights pressing crises and how investments could yield positive returns on investment by adopting proven health strategies.  For instance:

  • Investing $1 in substance use prevention to realize as much as $34 in return.  Deaths from prescription painkiller use have more than quadrupled in the past 15 years and deaths from heroin have tripled since 2010, contributing to higher death rates among middle-aged Whites.  Five of the strongest school-based substance use prevention strategies have returns on investment ranging from $3.8:1 to $34:1.
  • Saving more than $16 billion through a more active and healthy population. One in three children will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime and one in four young adults are not healthy enough to join the military.  An investment of $10 per person in proven, evidence-based community prevention programs to increase physical activity, improve nutrition and reduce tobacco use could save the country more than $16 billion annually – a $5.60:1 return.
  • Connecting health and social services to cut billions in costs.  Health and social service coordinating systems that address gaps between medical care and effective social service programs – by connecting patients in need with programs ranging from supportive housing to food assistance – could yield between $15 billion and $72 billion in healthcare savings a year within 10 years, according to a new analysis by TFAH and Healthsperien.
  • Reducing the $120 billion spent annually on preventable infectious diseases.  Fifteen years after 9/11 and 11 years after Hurricane Katrina, when health crises such as new infectious diseases arise, the country still scrambles to implement emergency plans and secure funding.  Preventable infectious diseases cost the country more than $120 billion annually – and that cost is exponentially compounded when new diseases emerge.
  • Realizing a 7-10 percent annual return by investing in early childhood education. More than half of U.S. children – across the economic spectrum – experience adverse experiences, such as physical or sexual abuse, and more than 20 percent live below the poverty line, which increases their risk for “toxic stress” – living under a constant state of stressful conditions – that can contribute to a range of physical, mental and behavioral health issues.  Investments in early childhood education can help mitigate against impact of these risks and increase resilience, while also providing an annual return of 7 to 10 percent per year, and supportive nurse-family home visits for high-risk families show a return of $5.70:1. 

The Blueprint highlights leading evidence-based strategies for improving health and policy – and models to help bring them to scale across the country. These include:

  • Supporting Better Health in Every Community:  Federal, state and local public health programs and policies should support place-based health improvement partnerships. Doing so will help identify and elevate a local community’s top priorities and bring key partners and assets together – from public health, healthcare, social services, philanthropies, education, businesses and faith and community groups – for a greater collective impact.  A network of expert institutes in each state should provide technical assistance to these multisector collaborative partnerships.  In addition, the Prevention and Public Health Fund and other community-based health improvement programs should be protected and fully funded.
  • Modernizing the Public Health System to Be Prepared for Emergencies:  The public health system must be modernized – and sufficiently funded – so that it can handle ongoing threats and new emergencies. Too often the country has been caught off guard when a new crisis emerges, diverting attention and resources.  There should be 1) greater investment to improve baseline foundational capabilities in communities around the country; 2) a standing Public Health Emergency Fund to provide additional surge funds when needed; 3) improved federal leadership, such as through a Special Assistant to the President for Health Security; and 4) upgrades to out-of-date technology and surveillance systems.
  • Incentivizing Health Care vs. Sick Care:  There should be increased incentives and mechanisms for healthcare insurers, nonprofit hospital community benefit programs and social investment funds to support health improvement strategies.  Efforts such as healthcare investment in community-wide health improvement programs, “navigator plus support” health and social service integration (such as Accountable Health Communities), Community Development Financial Institutions for Health (strategic planning and financing intermediaries) and pay-for-outcome approaches should be expanded.

The report also includes a set of policy recommendations to address priority health problems that require urgent action, some highlight areas include:

  • Stopping the Prescription Painkiller and Heroin Epidemics
  • Renewing Efforts to Prevent Obesity, Diabetes and Tobacco Use
  • Highlighting Prevention in the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative
  • Ending the HIV/AIDS Epidemic
  • Stopping Superbugs and Antibiotic Resistance
  • Lowering the Rising Death Rates Among Middle-Aged Whites
  • Achieving Health Equity

The Blueprint was supported by grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The California Endowment and The Kresge Foundation and is available on TFAH’s website at