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March 2015 marks 5 years since the Affordable Care Act (ACA), often referred to as "Obamacare," was signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama. Since its inception, a number of changes have already taken place across the U.S. health system.
A lot of emphasis has been placed on greater access to health insurance under the ACA; however, a significant section of the ACA focuses on transitioning the U.S. health system to one that focuses less on "sick" care and more on prevention and overall health. In fact, a main principle of the ACA is investing in public health and health education to transform the U.S. health system into one that is more health-focused.
As health care costs continue to rise, the U.S. government, insurance companies, and employers providing health care benefits are now tasked with improving the quality of care and health outcomes while also minimizing costs.
To successfully accomplish this shift, the ACA dictates the expansion of community-based programs to encourage prevention and health promotion, as well as increased emphasis on public health and needs of the clinical workforce to improve patient safety and care. A sufficiently qualified workforce will play a crucial role in providing the necessary services.
The U.S Bureau of Labor and Statistics forecasts that employment of health educators and community health workers will increase by 21% from 2012 to 2022, which is nearly two times faster than the average for all occupations. For individuals looking to further their health care careers, or those just entering the workforce, numerous opportunities exist in public health or health education.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) defines a public health professional as "a person educated in public health or a related discipline who is employed to improve health through a population focus." These individuals focus on the health of an entire population, helping to prevent occurrences, such as epidemics, and manage chronic illnesses.
The old adage "spend money to save money" could not be more true than when dealing with public health. According to the American Public Health Association (APHA), every dollar spent on prevention equates to an average savings of $5.60 in health spending. More specifically, each dollar spent on childhood vaccines saves $16.50 in future health care costs.
Under the ACA, public health workers are being brought on by employers and health insurance providers to curb costs. For example, many organizations now incorporate workplace wellness programs where employees must undergo a battery of tests in order to avoid certain fees. Other times, smokers will be required to endure a cessation program to avoid higher premiums. Public health specialists work with companies to operate these programs and decrease their health care costs.
Health education will also play a large role. The Society for Public Health Education explains that health educators conduct comprehensive planning to implement and provide relevant health promotion programming. They also bridge the gap between clinicians and patients, as well as between communities and the health and social service systems. They do this by helping patients navigate the health system, offering emotional support, and serving as a point of continuity. In essence, health educators possess all the necessary traits to successfully implement the ACA.
Health educators teach individuals how to live a healthy lifestyle while also avoiding costly medical procedures. Often, lifestyle changes can reduce the risks for certain illnesses, such as lung cancer, skin cancer, or heart disease. Additionally, health educators can help people understand how to manage chronic diseases they already have, such as asthma, and avoid emergencies and hospitalizations.
For those interested in furthering their education, many programs are offered online to allow professionals to advance their degrees while remaining in their current jobs.
In addition to a positive career outlook, a career in public health or health education may have other benefits under the ACA. As the demand for qualified professionals continues to increase, grant opportunities will also likely increase to encourage more public health specialists and health educators to obtain their advanced degree.
While most Americans are aware the Affordable Care Act has provided unprecedented benefits for millions, the advantages for health care professionals, particularly those in public health and health education, are expected to grow considerably. Those aiming to advance their degrees will be tasked with increased responsibilities, and with that, increased opportunities.*
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And if you are considering pursuing a health sciences degree, we invite you to find out more about Kaplan University's School of Health Sciences and explore our undergraduate and graduate degree offerings.
* Kaplan University cannot guarantee employment or career advancement.
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