Ensuring the Right to Health

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Why should I care?

All people deserve the opportunity to live long, healthy and productive lives. In fact, offering all people the tools and conditions associated with better health and less disease is an investment that comes with generations of positive returns.

Healthier people can learn better in the classroom, more easily pursue economic mobility and civic participation, and better care for themselves and their loved ones. But health is more than just a personal responsibility — it’s also a foundation upon which we prosper as a nation. By now, it sounds almost cliché to say that improving the nation’s health is an investment in our future. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

Health is also a moral imperative. In the U.S. today, significant and life-threatening disparities in health care access, disease burden, premature death and infant mortality persist across our communities and between neighborhoods only a few miles apart. This is unacceptable in a country as wealthy and medically advanced as ours. We can do better.

Access to care: Ensuring the right to health means ensuring access to affordable, quality insurance coverage. Research shows that going without health insurance increases a person’s risk of death, while expanding access to coverage can reduce mortality and increase the chance that a person reports being in good health . In the last few years, the U.S. has come a long way in reducing its uninsured rolls: Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, 20 million more people have gained health coverage, dropping the national uninsured rate from more than 16 percent in 2013 to 10 percent in early 2016. Still, about 28 million people in the U.S. lack health insurance.

Prioritizing prevention: Ensuring the right to health requires a commitment to public health and prevention. Much of today’s most burdensome and costly diseases — namely, chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, stroke and cancer — can be avoided or their health impacts lessened by widening access to preventive care, investing in evidence-based public health and supporting smart public policy.

For example, since the ACA began requiring coverage of preventive services, both mammography rates and early-stage colorectal cancer diagnoses have increased. On the public health side, research shows that each 10 percent boost in local public health spending can bring up to a 7 percent decrease in mortality from preventable causes of death. And studies find that health-promoting policies, such as smoking bans and sugary drink taxes , do result in people making choices that reduce the risk of chronic disease. But we have a long way to go: Chronic diseases remain a leading cause of death in the U.S. and account for more than 75 percent of U.S. health care spending.

Elevating the social determinants of health: Ensuring the right to health means creating the conditions that enable good health, acknowledging the inequities that perpetuate poor health, and considering health in all policies. For example: research shows that asthmatic children who live in green homes experience a much lower risk of asthma symptoms ; communities that improve neighborhood sidewalks help encourage physical activity ; better product labeling can help people eat healthier ; and boosts in the minimum wage can result in more babies being born at a healthy weight and fewer infant deaths. Becoming the healthiest nation also requires a commitment to achieving health equity — for example, consider that in Washington, D.C., the average life expectancy is 78 years old. Just a few miles outside of the city in Northern Virginia, average life expectancy is eight years longer.

What can I do?

#SpeakForHealth: Become an advocate for health! Call and write to your federal, state and local representatives in support of policies that positively impact people’s health. In particular, call on members of Congress to support, improve upon and strengthen the Affordable Care Act and preserve the ACA’s Prevention and Public Health Fund, the nation’s first mandatory funding stream dedicated to improving the nation’s health.

Call out lawmakers for budget and spending decisions that weaken the public health systems charged with protecting communities from preventable disease and disability. Make it known that the right to health is what drives you to the polls.

APHA makes it easy to speak up — visit our advocacy page to stay informed on the latest policy issues and take immediate action in support of better health for all. Also, consider joining APHA’s Generation Public Health, a growing movement of people, organizations and communities collaborating across sectors to create the healthiest nation in one generation.

American Public Health Association