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Prevention is a Priority -- Now It's a Reality

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius details how the Affordable Care Act helps give Americans access to preventative care like regular checkups, immunizations and prenatal care.

Earlier today, I joined First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden to discuss how the Affordable Care Act will give millions of Americans access to preventive care through their private health insurance.


Today, too many Americans today aren't getting the preventive health care they need. Right now, for example, 59 million adults and 11 million children depend on private health insurance that doesn't adequately cover immunizations. And 12 percent of children haven't visited a doctor in the last year.

The statistics are even more troubling in our minority communities. African-American mothers are 2.5 times as likely as white mothers to begin prenatal care in the 3rd trimester, or not receive it at all. And only 37 percent of Latinos were screened for colon cancer in 2007, compared to 57 percent of whites.

Our challenge is to remove the obstacles between patients getting the preventive services that they need to stay healthy. If we fail in this challenge, we all pay the price. If we succeed -- we are on our way to a healthier nation. According to one study, if people got just five types of preventive services when they needed to -- colorectal and breast cancer screening, flu vaccines, counseling to help them quit smoking, and regular aspirin use to prevent strokes -- we could avert 100,000 deaths each year. Use of preventive services can also help bring costs down in a variety of ways. For example, people who are obese have health care costs that are 39 percent above average, and reducing obesity and the diseases related to it could lower premiums overall by 0.05 to 0.1 percent.

Those are just a few of the reasons why President Obama has made improving access to preventive care a priority from his first day in office and why we released new rules requiring all new private health insurance plans with plan years beginning on or after September 23, 2010 to cover recommended preventive services without cost-sharing when delivered by a network provider. The new rules mean that services like blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol tests, cancer screenings, routine vaccinations, and well-baby visits will be provided without a deductible, co-pay or co-insurance.

We know that eliminating these costs for regular preventive services can ensure more Americans will use these services. And we know these services can save lives.

At the announcement yesterday, we met Maggie Roberts from California. When Maggie's son was just a toddler, he was diagnosed with cancer during a routine checkup. Because they caught it early, the cancer was successfully treated, and years later he is still cancer-free. It's a powerful story of how important preventive care can be.

You can learn more about the new preventive benefits available under the law, and get more tips on how to stay healthy by visiting our new website,

Kathleen Sebelius is Secretary of Health and Human Services