We write as president of the Maine Medical Association and co-chairmen of the association’s Public Health Committee to express our deep concern about proposed cuts in 2013 to the Fund for a Healthy Maine.

At its February meeting, the Public Health Committee, representing more than 30 Maine physicians, made the preservation of this fund for prevention one of its top priorities for the coming year.

The committee took this action for two reasons:

* This is not taxpayer money. It was extracted from tobacco companies to compensate Maine for the costs of caring for people who became ill from smoking.

* This fund’s purpose is preventive in nature. The money is used to prevent the onset of the terrible chronic diseases that exact high costs, both to the individual and to the state.

As practicing physicians, we have firsthand knowledge about the physical, emotional and financial toll that chronic illness can exact both on families in Maine and our state’s health care budget.

Many high-cost medical conditions are preventable through education, lifestyle changes and early intervention. Gov. Paul LePage, however, proposes to remove many of those options from our tool kit.

For example, he proposes cutting nearly all funding from the Healthy Maine Partnerships and school-based health centers. This virtually eliminates the state’s anti-obesity program and decimates Maine’s tobacco- and substance-abuse prevention efforts.

While moving these dollars may plug a hole in the MaineCare budget for now, in the long run it will be extraordinarily expensive to the state’s bottom line and the health of our citizens. We know that Maine can save $7.50 for every $1 spent on prevention efforts.

Immunization funding, also slated to be cut, provides influenza and pneumococcal vaccines for adults, providing thousands of doses each year to vulnerable patients in hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics and physician practices. Several hundred people die every year in Maine from vaccine-preventable flu and pneumonia.

Since these vaccines have been provided by the fund, the immunization rates of Maine’s seniors have increased tremendously, reducing the chance of costly hospitalization and death. Maine’s Immunization Program has no other source of funding to purchase these vaccines.

Also on the chopping block are family planning services, which translates to 5,900 fewer patients receiving screening for cancer and sexually transmitted diseases, prevention and education, as well as an increased chance of costly, high-risk or unintended pregnancies.

Other significant cuts include those to oral health and home visitation programs and Head Start.

As an organization and as physicians, we urge the Legislature to rethink proposed cuts to the Fund for a Healthy Maine. These cuts will save a dime today, yet result in the loss of huge savings down the road, to say nothing of the cost Mainers will face in poorer health.

As Benjamin Franklin wrote in 1736, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Nancy Cummings, M.D., is president of the Maine Medical Association. Lani Graham, M.D., and Daniel Oppenheim, M.D., are co-chairmen of the association’s Public Health Committee.

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