Erika Blacksher, research scholar and bioethicist who examines ethical and policy implications of the widening inequalities of health in the U.S. population, will launch the Fall 2009 series, Rethinking Health Care. Her talk, Reorienting U.S. Health Reform Toward Health for All, will take place on Wednesday, October 14th at 7:30 pm in Gamble Auditorium, Art Building on the Mount Holyoke College campus.
After a 15 year hiatus, health care reform is back on the American political agenda. Since President Bill Clinton’ efforts died in Congress in 1994, the failings of U.S. health care have grown steadily worse. Annual expenditures on health care have continued to escalate and are expected to top $2.5 trillion in 2009. The ranks of the uninsured have swelled and are expected to approach 50 million in the wake of the economy’s downturn. Cost and access have, for good reasons, taken center stage in the healthcare reform debate. But these problems share company with a third that has gone largely overlooked: the United States ranks poorly on most measures of health. Not only do we compare poorly with other developed nations, but within the United States, better off Americans live significantly longer, healthier lives than worse off Americans.
Health care reform that guarantees all Americans timely access to quality health care can help close these gaps. But health care reform alone cannot resolve these problems. Health care is but one determinant of health, and by some measures a minor one. The daily conditions in which people grow, live, work, and play exert a powerful influence over who stays healthy and who gets sick, who lives a normal lifespan and who dies early. The collective decisions we make about political institutions that influence the distribution of power and voice; social policies that determine income levels, educational opportunities, the safety of neighborhoods and workplaces, childhood welfare, air and water quality, and the availability of affordable nutritious foods and recreation opportunities; and social practices that affirm or undermine mutual respect and trust among citizens create the conditions and opportunities for health. Health is a truly collaborative enterprise that can only be sustained by a sense of shared responsibility. What would policies and programs that treat health as a collaborative enterprise look like? What role should citizens, employees, and parents play in staying healthy? What responsibilities do governments, employers, and schools have to create the conditions for health? What is fair and just health policy? These questions and issues will be the topic of Dr. Blacksher’s lecture, Reorienting U.S. Health Reform Toward Health for All.