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    By Dr. Matthew Caines

    Many people are familiar with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the impact health insurance reform has presented in terms of coverage, benefits, protections, and lowering cost of services. What some do not realize is that a large part of the ACA is not focused on insurance but rather on funding and opportunities for the fields of public health and health education. Referred to as Health System Reform, this part of the ACA deals with improved quality and efficiency for health services, creating a stronger workforce infrastructure and focusing on prevention. “To fully understand the implications of the ACA on health services careers, one must understand public health and education and learn how professionals with public health careers are improving our health care system,” said Matthew Caines, DHed, MPH, CHES, Kaplan University's department chair for public health, health education, health informatics, and health information management.

    What is Public Health?  What is Public Health Education? 

    According to the Centers of Disease Control Foundation, “Public health connects us all.” The term public health refers to a population as a whole and that population’s relationship to health issues. Public health is affected by the general lifestyle of a population as well as factors such as research, detection, and control of diseases and injury prevention. Health education is the avenue by which we support behavioral changes within a population which can positively impact the health of a community. “With the implementation of the ACA, our government made strong commitments to the improvement of our nation’s public health and, in this way, new career avenues have developed,” said Dr. Caines. “Many of these public health careers are in health education, as a significant contributor to health system reform is proper education on how to be healthy and how to access health care,” he said.

    Quality and Efficiency Improvements Impact Career Paths 

    The implementation of the ACA moved our country toward broad adoption of the electronic health record (EHR) by requiring mandatory compliance for all health care providers. Although the EHR affects insurance reform in terms of billing and payment improvements, the EHR also offers opportunities for health system reform in terms of better research and assessment capabilities.

    The ACA also coordinated the development of Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs). ACOs allow health care providers to work collaboratively and accept accountability together for the quality and cost of care for a given population. The goal is to control cost, increase quality, and improve population health. “For public health departments and public health professionals, these changes translate into potential roles within ACOs and medical homes and positions creating services and programs enabling ACOs to meet population health goals,” said Dr. Caines. “Opportunities in public health also exist in regard to the collection and analysis of data obtained via the EHR,” he added.

    Workforce Infrastructure and Disease Prevention 

    The ACA impacts public health with a strong emphasis on preventative medicine. Within insurance reform, this is illustrated by negating deductibles and copayments for cancer screenings, certain vaccinations, tobacco cessation counseling, interventions, and other preventative services. Within the public health arena, the Prevention and Public Health Fund, established by the ACA, became the United States’ first mandatory funding for public health. This much needed investment in prevention funds Community Transformation Grants (CTG), the National Public Health Improvement Initiative (NPHII), and other key public health provisions, including public health education campaigns, health equity promotion, and workplace wellness programs.  In general, the focus of these monies is to promote tobacco-free lifestyles, active living, healthy eating, quality preventive services, and healthy and safe physical environments.

    Caines notes it’s expected that these new policies within the ACA allow for the development of additional jobs in the public health arena. For instance, one specific regulation requires restaurants with over 20 locations to document caloric value for nutrition on their menus. “A regulation like this impacts not only the health department in terms of program management personnel, but the restaurant business needs to comply with these new standards and new jobs are created to fulfill these needs,” said Dr. Caines.

    For those interested in careers paths in public health and health education, Dr. Caines recommends finding the best education and experience available to further career goals. “How does the ACA affect public health? In terms of career paths and the future, it's expected that individuals may have more options,” said Dr. Caines.  “Students could benefit from a global, holistic, comprehensive program that includes training in health management, public health, and health education,” said Dr. Caines. 

    Click here for programs available through Kaplan University.

    Dr. Matthew Caines is Academic Department Chair for the Master of Health Informatics, Master of Health Information Management, Bachelor of Science in Health Information Management, and Medical Billing and Coding Certificate programs.

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