Policy @ Home: How are you going to change America’s health for the better?

Often when we think about public policy, we think about lawmakers. After all, they are the ones who can make the change. However, we have found time and time again that changing public health policy is not limited to those serving in government offices. For researchers, medical practitioners, and community members, what it takes to be a change maker is finding your answer to the question, “How are you going to change America’s health for the better?” Each of our Speaker’s in this week’s Speaker Spotlight have found unique answers to how they are impacting change in America and helping to build a healthier future. Whether it’s from the Senate Chambers or a research lab, each of these Speakers will share their vision for how public policy can create a healthier United States.

As the 20th Surgeon General of the United States, Vice Admiral Jerome Adams is faced with a monumental task: improving the health of the American people. Specifically, Dr. Adams is responsible for overseeing the operations of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and providing the public with the best scientific information available regarding how they can better their health and reduce their risk of injury and illness. Since he took office in 2017, Dr. Adams has had to confront major national public health issues ranging from opioids to hurricane relief effort to health and national security s, which he has approached from a science-first perspective. Additionally, Dr. Adams is focused on demonstrating the connection between health and economic prosperity at the individual, organizational, and community level. Dr. Adams believes in the power of forming non-traditional partnerships, such as with law enforcement and private businesses, to address America’s most difficult health challenges and build healthier communities.

Dr. Adams at the NIH

Affordable and accessible health care is an important piece of the policy puzzle, too. Irene Papanicolas is a health system performance analyst who asks the important question “Why is health care spending in the United States so much greater than in other high-income countries?” While many have asked that question before, Irene has examined the data behind several theories, finding that issues with the prices of labor and goods, as well as high administrative costs are the main drivers of the differences in spending. Her research, which digs deeper into the strengths, weaknesses, and intricacies of different health care systems around the globe, is providing policymakers with critical data and inspiring new ways of thinking about the future of the US healthcare system.

Sometimes, the most effective policies are already on the books. April Zeoli, an associate professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University, has conducted extensive research on the association between laws addressing intimate partner violence (IPV), gun violence, and intimate partner homicide (IPH) rates. With her work, April digs into important questions such as what are “the risks of firearm access and use in IPV?” as well as what is the “effectiveness of interventions designed specifically to reduce firearm violence in intimate relationships”? Importantly, April has found that some states have policies that have proven to reduce instances of IPV and IPH — which have the potential to be adopted in other states as well.

Denisse Rojas’s work also has the potential to change policies in a major way. Denisse grew up as an undocumented immigrant and saw firsthand the issues that marginalized populations in the United States face when it comes to health care — experiences that have inspired Denisse to pursue a career in both medicine and public policy. In addition to her commitment to influencing immigration and health policy, Denisse is dedicated to helping other aspiring medical students navigate the DACA program through the organization she co-founded, Pre-Health Dreamers. With her educational fate in the hands of the government, Denisse is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School in the hopes of influencing immigration policy, and its health impacts on undocumented people, for the better.

Denisse testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee, October 2017

Whether it be research, advocacy, partnerships, or law, there are many ways to answer the question, “How are you going to change the health of Americans for the better?” Dr. Adams, Irene, April, and Denisse have all chosen different paths to address public health concerns in the US. Progress does not come without struggle, which each of these Speakers shed light on the incredible challenges we face as a nation, as well as individuals. However, their stories and research spark hope that there are clear ways to change policy to pave the way to a healthier future.