The Politics of Health

SUMR Blog

The Politics of Health

Reflections from AcademyHealth

One of the most remarkable events during the AcademyHealth annual research conference happened outside the four walls of the Minneapolis Convention Center. On June 16, 2015, the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee posted a bill proposing the elimination of funding for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). As I had just learned at the AHRQ conference, the agency funds the health services research of PhD students and doctors across the nation. Just as thousands of researchers came together in Minneapolis to discuss the most innovative research in health care, miles away in Washington, politicians were making decisions that will determine the future of health services research in the United States. [Editor’s note: On June 25, 2015, the House Appropriations Committee voted in favor of the bill to eliminate AHRQ.]

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SUMR Scholar Adjoa Mante is rising junior at Princeton University, where she is pursuing a degree in Spanish and Global Health.

The Multidisciplinary Approach to Health 
This link between research and politics is truly at the core of health care and health policy research. Although I had always thought about a career in health meant working in medicine, my experience in LDI's Summer Undergraduate Minority Research (SUMR) program has opened my eyes to diversity of health-related professions, and the different ways to influence the health of an individual or population: law, technology, policy, education, nutrition, marketing, the list continues. This complexity can be seen in the variety of themes addressed at AcademyHealth – topics from the Health Care Workforce to Health Information Technology.

Due to the complex and global nature of health, the issue is inevitably discussed outside of universities and other research institutions. Capitol Hill and the White House are additional battlefields in America’s ‘War on Disease’. Policy is often the most visible factor in changing the health of populations. The influence of health policy was obvious at this year’s AcademyHealth conference. The chosen Article of the Year discussed the effect of Massachusetts health care reform on mortality rates in the population. Other sessions celebrated and unpacked the anniversaries of Medicare and the Heckler Report, key examples of governmental action influencing population health.

Messy relationship of politics and health care
Perhaps the most interesting session I attended discussed the implications of King v. Burwell. The trajectory of the case is a clear demonstration of the messy relationship between politics, policy, law and health care and the incredible impact that health policy has on the population. [Editor’s note: On June 25, 2015, the Supreme Court sided with the Administration and upheld ACA subsidies on the state-based marketplaces.]

While health policy influences the topics of research, health services research can also attempt to alter national health policy. This is perhaps the greatest challenge of health services research: to address the multifaceted issues within the American health care system. This challenge was clear in the discussions and sessions at AcademyHealth and the AHRQ conference. Again and again, speakers reminded the audience of the importance of their research in changing the American state of health, and in influencing government policy.