Everybody Thrive Now: Why Health Policy Matters
Nestled in the heart of Nashville — a hub of U.S. healthcare operations — is a 7-year-old department taking on a grueling task: making people, and in particular lawmakers, care about health policy and its implications.
The need for this work became startlingly clear as the U.S. grappled with the impact of COVID-19 — and continues to navigate the pandemic today. But health policy is more than the country’s response to one seismic health crisis.
“I think bringing data and evidence to policy -making discussions has never been more important,” said Melinda Buntin, PhD, Mike Curb Professor and founding chair of the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “I have a little piece of paper on my bulletin board that says ‘It’s really hard to argue with facts, but it’s even harder to argue without them.’ So that’s where I think we are as a country: We need to be arguing with facts, we don’t need to be arguing without them.” (21:52)
‘I’ve never spoken to a policy maker who is not pro-kids.’
Stephen Patrick, M.D., MPH, associate professor of pediatrics and health policy, started Vanderbilt’s Center for Child Health Policy to advocate for children in policy discussions that would ultimately impact their wellbeing.
Most policies have an impact — often a direct impact — on children, yet children are usually absent from the conversations and deliberations, in part because they don’t vote. However, the ripple effect of policy or regulatory change that impacts their parents or schools impacts children.
Because of COVID-19’s punishing blow to the U.S., kids and families are faring worse today than they were at the beginning of 2020. Patrick and his colleagues published the results of the Vanderbilt Child Health Poll in late July. The survey found a perfect storm wrought by the global pandemic is pummeling many families: rising unemployment (which data now show has a disproportionate impact on women), a shaky network of childcare and volatile access to the structure and support of school systems.
“What I find as a pediatrician is that policymakers are almost always willing to sit down and talk,” Patrick said. “What we don’t see, however, is a result and a big investment. So one-on-one, when we talk to people, certainly people are pro-kid. I mean, I’ve never spoken to a policy maker who is not pro-kids. But I think one of the challenges, really, is how do we have systematic change? And you know, you can tell what that looks like when you just look at both a state or a federal budget, how many dollars really allocated to kids’ issues? I think those are the bigger issues.” (8:10)
‘My job as a scientist is to show who’s being harmed by the current policies.’
Stacie Dusetzina, Ph.D., associate professor of health policy and Ingram Associate Professor of Cancer Research, says its crucial to provide accurate and timely data to drive health policy decisions made by lawmakers — and to frame the discussion about drug affordability that’s relatable and easy-to-understand. These conversations are complex, and can box out anyone who does not follow every policy twist and turn.
Her mission is remind policymakers that every day Americans have to think with their wallets. The long tail of policy can reverberate in a variety of ways that put therapeutics out of reach for many people who need them. (11:54)
“I just keep putting data to inform the story,” said Dusetzina. “So, you know, I think my job as a scientist is to show who’s being harmed by the current policies. So one of the ways that I do that is, I find a problem with the policy, and I work to show how many people are impacted by that problem.” (14:52)