Easterly’s Best in Aid Award

March 29, 2010

I’m a little behind in catching up with my Google Reader so this post is a little out-dated.  I thought it was worth linking to the Best in Aid award, given by William Easterly’s blog aid watch.  The winner?  The “Smart Giving Movement.”


Health Care Reform: A Big Deal

March 26, 2010

Originally printed in the Yale Herald, 3/26/10:

“Mr. President, this is a big fucking deal.”

Joe Biden’s whispered excitement, caught on media microphones at the recent health care reform bill signing ceremony, celebrates a historic event for the United States.

After a 219-212 House vote, after a year of heated debate, after 100 years of effort, President Barack Obama signed into law the health care reform bill. Not a single vote in affirmation of the bill came from the Republican Party.

“This is a somber day for the American people,” said Rep. John A. Boehner (R-OH), the House Minority Leader. “By signing this bill, President Obama is abandoning our founding principle that government governs best when it governs closest to the people.”

While health care has clearly sparked many political passions, recent protests have been downright embarrassing. Racial slurs were chanted at civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), one demonstrator spit on Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver (D-MO), while Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) faced insults about his openly gay sexual orientation.

Even congressmen have joined in the inappropriate revelry. Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) shouted “Baby killer!” during Rep. Bart Stupak’s (D-MI) speech on healthcare reform. Though passions regularly flare over important policy, GOP members associated with these outbursts should be ashamed.

The Republicans have pledged to block the measure, or at least use procedural weapons to delay its final ratification. “We will not allow this to stand,” promised Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), a day after the bitterly partisan vote. Already in more than a dozen states, attorney generals have filed lawsuits arguing that measures in the bill are unconstitutional.

The response from Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA)? “It is time to chill out, Republicans.”

“Now it is a fact,” declared Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT). “Now it is law. Now it is history. Indeed, it’s historic.”

A long time ago, the healthcare reform debate stopped being about health and started being about politics. Countless committees, numerous reforms, many liberals losing hope, and one removed “Cornhusker Kickback” later, a bill has been signed into law that may finally offer improvements to our nation’s failing health system.

The bill does not include a public option that would allow people to opt into a cheaper health insurance plan provided by the federal government (one of the more liberal proposals advocated for by Democrats and Obama since the beginning of the debate), but still includes some important reforms. The bill is expected to cost some 940 billion dollars, but an additional 32 million Americans will finally receive healthcare insurance.

In addition to the expansion of the Medicaid benefit cutoff to four times the level of poverty (88,200 dollars for a family of four), federal drug benefits will improve. Children can stay on their parents’ insurance plans until a later age. Subsidies are provided to small businesses to help cover insurance costs. Coverage cannot be denied based on preexisting conditions. Out-of-pocket expenditures will be capped. Individual mandates will force everyone to buy insurance or pay a penalty fee. Many of these changes, however, will be gradual and won’t occur until 2014.

If you have coverage now, there won’t be many changes next year. In fact, if Republicans make substantial gains in the next elections, some of these provisions could be legislated out of existence before they even have a chance to take effect.

Obama said it best: “This is major reform. This is not radical reform.” The signing is only a small incremental step in getting America to where it needs to be. The lack of a public option does not mean this bill is a failure, but it does mean that it is lacking. Only with a public option can the government most effectively provide adequate welfare to the poor and the sick. Insurance companies have a long history of unjustifiable profits—profits that come from refusing care to the sick and exploiting those with preexisting conditions.

The bill isn’t perfect: It’s only gradual change, and it lacks a public option. But it is the first step in addressing the health disparity in our country. It’s the first step in creating a country of healthy individuals. It’s the first step in acknowledging that everyone deserves affordable access to care.

For all the hurdles that came with the push for reform, in the immortal words of Joe Biden, it’s a big fucking deal.


State of the Planet – 2010

March 24, 2010

Originally posted on the WhyPublicHealth blog:

On March 25: Look for a state of the union address unlike any other–State of the Planet 2010.

A biennial conference, hosted by the Earth Institute and The Economist, watch the world’s most influential and innovative thinkers tackle critical issues facing the world including: climate change, poverty, economic recovery and international systems.

Clearly all these issues greatly affect public health (a topic of  import to PHC), but this post will place focus particularly on poverty.

A short list of infectious diseases, treatable with inexpensive generic drugs, accounts for 70-90% of all childhood illness and death in the developing world — a truly appalling statistic.

These enormous global health disparities cause thousands of global citizens—sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers—to die each day from diseases for which cures were discovered decades ago. Such deaths do not come from disease as much as from complacency: killed by conditions that could be prevented with simple, affordable remedies: vaccinations, bednets, anti-malarials, hand sanitizer and antibiotics.

Disease has practically become an accepted part of life in impoverished communities, yet treatments are available for less than a cup of coffee. So what can be done?

Here is a list of some of the more innovative approaches to improve health or reduce costs for the poorest of the poor:

Selling to the poor: Social enterprises likes HealthStore Foundation attempt to use market mechanisms to create a private alternative for sustainable access to low-cost, high-quality medications.

Health Impact Fund: Yale’s own Thomas Pogge is leading the charge to radically change Pharma’s global IP policies by incentivizing R&D expenditure that would address substantial reductions in global burden of disease.

PATH’s Malaria Vaccine Initiative: Funded by the Gates Foundation, a collaborative effort to create a whole new type of vaccine will save millions of lives.

The Power of the Text: FrontlineSMS:Medic leverages the power of the cell phone to save lives in developing countries.

charity:water: No one brings clean drinking water to people in developing nations better than CW. 100% of proceeds go to fund water projects.


Today is World Water Day

March 22, 2010

March 22 is World Water Day.  You can donate your voice (via Twitter or Facebook) to raise awareness.

charity: water is launching Unshaken – a campaign to help Haiti recover by providing long-term clean water solutions.  100% of donations directly fund water projects in 11 areas in Haiti.

Katie Spotz rowed across the Atlantic Ocean solo to raise awareness and funds for clean water.  She was the youngest person to ever make the trip.  NYTimes article here.

To celebrate, you should check out the greatest coffee table book you can own from Blue Planet Run: It is beautiful.

Every 15 seconds, a child dies from a water-related disease. On average, every US dollar invested in water and sanitation provides an economic return of eight US dollars.  Learn more about the facts here.

Three twitters worth following: @water, @GoBluePlanetRun and @charitywater