The Affordable Care Act's Implications for a Public Health Workforce Agenda: Taxonomy, Enumeration, and the Standard Occupational Classification System

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The Affordable Care Act brings a renewed emphasis on the importance of public health services and those whose occupations are defined by performing the essential public health functions. The Affordable Care Act Prevention and Public Health Fund is a signal to the field that its work is important and critical to the health of the nation. Recent reports by the Institute of Medicine describe the changing dimensions of public health work in primary care integration and the need for enhanced financing of public health as investment. Gaining knowledge about the public health workforce, that is, how many workers there are and what they are doing, is of growing interest and concern for the field. Although enumeration of the public health workforce has been attempted several times by the federal government beginning as early as 1982, it was not until the year 2000 that a major effort was undertaken to obtain more complete information. Limitations that hampered Enumeration 2000 have persisted however. With implementation of the Affordable Care Act and other new ventures, key federal agencies are developing strategies to pursue a systemic and systematic enumeration and consistent taxonomy process. Included in these efforts is use of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Standard Occupational Classification system. A clear and accurate understanding of the public health workforce and its characteristics is a major challenge. A well-constructed, systematic enumeration process can add to our understanding of the nature and functions of that workforce. In addition, discussion of enumeration must include the need for a consensus within the field that leads to a consistent taxonomy for the public health occupations. This article will provide a stage-setting brief of historical actions regarding enumeration, and it will examine selected enumeration activities taking place currently. It will discuss positive and negative implications facing public health and the potential for enhancing the existing Standard Occupational Classification system to aid enumeration studies.

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