A Healthcare Breakthrough

A recent discovery can reduce healthcare costs by over 35%!   Not since Louis Pasteur validated Germ Theory has there been such an important medical discovery.   What is this discovery?

In 1998, the CDC and Kaiser Permanente published the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study, proving the direct link between adverse experiences in childhood and later mental and physical illnesses.  The data was so overwhelming that the researchers wept when they first viewed the results.   In many cases, a high ACE score had the same predictive risk factor as a genetic marker!   In simple terms, this means a significant percentage of the leading causes of death (and healthcare costs) is preventable.  Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, lung disease, and depression, to name a few, and even more predictive was adulthood high-risk health behaviors such as smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, promiscuity, and severe obesity.

The study has been validated multiple times and there is no question about its conclusions…the bigger question – is why do so few know about this landmark study and why has it not become one of the central pillars in all national healthcare discussions?   The potential savings and reduced suffering is the single best ROI for our country in healthcare and society…invest $60 dollars today and save $60,000.

Adverse Childhood Experiences are stressful or traumatic events, including abuse and neglect.  They may also include household dysfunction such as witnessing domestic violence or growing up with family members who have substance abuse disorders.

Now, many will argue – but you can’t prescribe a pill or legislation that will regulate good parenting, and this is true, but with so much on the line doing nothing is also not an option.  In fact, our country does have a history of tackling big important problems that are difficult and frequently controversial by implementing programs and regulations that are known in advance to be only a partial solution or have a high chance of failure but were still deemed important enough to pursue.  Examples of both types include the 60’s moonshot, ban on aerosols, No Child Left Behind (now ESSA) and “Just Say No/Dare” programs.

Proposed Direction – Instead of creating one more governmental agency, it is proposed we leverage some of the current programs, such as the national HeadStart program and the national vaccination requirements, as many of these programs already train professionals to identify high-risk children.  The new initiative would differ based on its increased focus/funding to support/educate, not just children, but an increased focus on the parents.  Much like the programs that support and educate new mom’s in low-income areas, so too would this type of program be expanded to educating and supporting parents to provide an environment that significantly reduces the potential for stress and trauma in the household.  Easy?  Absolutely not.  Critical to try?  Absolutely!

Looking at just the state and federal costs, and projected increases, for welfare, incarcerations, physical and mental healthcare (all referenced in ACE), the future points to one inescapable conclusion – the trajectory is not sustainable, we must try.  Add in the many times larger overall societal costs and we truly have a national emergency.

The above is not a complete solution and is simply offered to increase the discussion on how and where to most effectively address this hidden but growing national epidemic.   Recognized experts such as Dr. Daniel Siegel, Peter Levine, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, Brene Brown and Dr. Bessel van der Kolk all provide deep insights and recommendations.  Ideally, we would see government involvement focused on identifying best practices, providing tools and stimulating programs implemented by the local communities.  It truly does take a village to raise a child, not a government, and thus, neighbor helping neighbor and communities mobilized to help themselves have historically been our most effective programs.

“An Ounce of Prevention is Truly Worth a Pound for the Cure”

featured image from the CDC

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