February 17, 2017 | Blog Post

Our Next Project: Creating a national political voice for the health of Americans

By Jake Williams, Executive Director

 

Healthier Colorado is nationally unique, and the fact that we are alone in our focus and capability is leaving most Americans without the voice they need to improve health public policy. We are the only organization in America that deploys the full range of legally available advocacy tools to engage on the full range of health public policy issues. Here’s what that means, and why this needs to change.

First, there are very few organizations in the U.S. that focus exclusively on health that also engage in lobbying and candidate elections. We do both of those things. Second, most organizations focus on a particular sector of health, like insurance coverage or wellness or mental health. We cover virtually all of it.

There are specific reasons why Healthier Colorado has chosen this path. We believe that population health improvement depends upon a full investment in public policy advocacy on behalf of regular Americans. Regular people are the only health stakeholders that do not have a full and focused political apparatus working on their behalf. Consequently, corporate stakeholders own nearly all the influence and our health public policy does not generally reflect the best interests of regular people.

We also believe that health warrants and needs its own true movement. Any political apparatus built on behalf of Americans will only be as strong as the people behind it. Right now, there is no such thing as a “health movement.” The reasons why begin with the fact that the elements of health have never been unified as a political issue like various elements have been unified in other movements. For example, a person passionate about recycling and a person passionate about endangered species distinctly recognize each other as “environmentalists.” This commensurate recognition does not exist across sectors in health.

We at Healthier Colorado want to break down the barriers between these health elements in the public discourse to reflect their true connectivity and concurrent influence upon one’s health. We want to continue to raise the voices of people in the public policy process on this full range of issues so we can develop public policy that can best serve the interests of regular people. Our ability to perform these needed functions in Colorado would be enhanced if our range of advocacy ability and interest in movement building existed beyond the confines of our state.

If we could combine forces with organizations across the country that have similar orientation and capabilities, our ability to influence federal policy would be stronger. Our ability to build a movement would be greater. Together, we could spark the change that needed to improve the health of Americans – and that need is dire.

Life expectancy in the United States is actually in decline. Take a moment to consider that fact – we now have at least one generation of Americans who won’t live as long as their parents. Our suicide rate is also at a 30 year high. We are plagued with an opioid epidemic. And we continue to be the most obese nation among our peers. This is all occurring despite the advance of technology and despite the fact that we spend more per capita on healthcare than any other nation on earth.

In a country with a population as large as the United States, with powerful corporations whose interests are often at odds with public health, it is impossible to make significant progress on population health overall without leveraging public policy change. Socioeconomic inequality cannot ultimately be solved through direct service alone. Non-profit efforts to educate the public about the harm of unhealthy food products cannot compete toe-to-toe with billion-dollar private sector marketing budgets. Access to health care is fundamentally a systemic challenge governed by public policy.

In a country with a pay-to-play political system like the Unites States, it is impossible to make significant progress on public policy change if one does not put resources into the political process. However, regular Americans do not have a focused and fully developed political apparatus advocating for their health. Consumer health interests rely too often on part-time intermediaries for their political advocacy and a single political party to pass helpful policy.

We want to change this by creating a national advocacy and movement infrastructure that is focused on the health of Americans. Our first step is to describe in detail why this is needed and how to get started. That is what we’ve done in “The Voice our Health Deserves,” a white paper that you can check out below. As always, we welcome your feedback.


Click to read the white paper

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