The Politics of Public Health

If there were any question about the connection between politics and public health, the recent overturning of Roe v Wade and the decision’s subsequent effect on further restricting abortion rights in at least 14 states should put that question to rest.

As the country approaches the 2022 mid-term elections, the state of the nation’s health may not be top of mind for candidates or voters, but it should be. A 2021 Commonwealth Fund study found that the U.S. ranks last on health-care outcomes among 11 high-income countries, with the highest infant mortality rate and lowest life expectancy at age 60.

These abysmal outcomes should encourage the voting public to consider candidates’ stances on health-related and quality of life issues. Because the health of a nation’s citizens directly influences its ability to compete internationally, even those voters who traditionally rank national security as their principal concern should prioritize health when weighing candidates.

The stakes could not be higher. With every seat in the House of Representatives up for grabs as well as 35 senate seats and 36 governorships, the health of the country hangs in the balance. Several down-ballot races for secretaries of state, attorneys general, and control of state legislatures could have wide-ranging effects on many hot-button issues along with health care, including abortion rights and gun control, both arguably directly health-related.

Beyond those hot-button issues and beyond the U.S.’ appalling physical health outcomes, the U.S. is also facing a mounting mental health crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and seemingly intransigent economic anxieties. The need for mental health services continues to grow at an alarming pace. While improving access to mental health services has bipartisan support, few policy makers have made it a major focus of their campaigns.

As voters head to the ballot box in early November, it is vital that we press candidates to consider the health of their constituents and prioritize policies that address the woeful state of health in this country.

photo by Lane Hickenbottom/Omaha Headshot Co.

By Stacy Martin

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