In January, the Institute of Medicine released a study that compared American health care outcomes to other industrialized countries. The realities were shocking. Despite spending far more per capita on health care than any other nation, the data was abundantly clear – life for many Americans has become increasingly brutish and comparatively short.
Johns Hopkins Symposium on the Social Determinants of Health, academics, community leaders, and public officials convened to discuss the intersection of housing, education, social, and health policies on overall health outcomes.
One optimistic takeaway from the symposium is that almost all of our health inequities are attributable to (and capable of being ameliorated by) public policy – not only in health, but across all sectors. In other words, changes are possible.
How do we know this? Because, ultimately, the differences between the U.S. and its peers are policy differences — and thus are amenable to collective action. We can make America healthier (and more productive) by making it more equitable. And we can do this by investing in employment, housing, education, social, environmental, and economic policies that promote health. We know what to do. We just need the resolve and resources to get it done.
One of the highlights of last week’s symposium was Vincent DeMarco’s, of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, concrete and replicable six-step process for advancing policy change:
Create an evidence based plan. The research is out there. Go find it and use the data to power your campaign.
- Conduct a public interest poll to gauge public opinion and identify any weaknesses.
- Build a powerful coalition. Connect with people in the community and across all sectors. People power pushes policy.
- Use the media to the hilt. We are in the era of social media and nearly everyone is on it. Harness the media to spread the word.
- Make your issue an election issue.
- Go to the legislature.
If you’re David trying to take on Goliath, you don’t need a shock-and-awe campaign to advance health for all Americans. You simply need a boots-on-the-ground approach that mobilizes and leverages the creative energies of experts, community leaders, and ordinary citizens in collaborative ventures to change policy.
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