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2016: The Healthy State of Our Union

By Ronny B. Lancaster

It is January! A time to reflect on the successes and challenges of the past year, and an opportunity to look forward optimistically, yet pragmatically to the upcoming 12 months, and beyond. The country collectively nods to this annual tradition in several ways, including, by observing the command of the U.S. Constitution that “He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

President Obama delivered his 8th and final State of the Union address on Tuesday evening (January 12). And, while the President spoke about traditional and expected themes – what we can accomplish by working together – a significant portion of his speech was devoted specifically to health.

He thanked a bipartisan Congress for its strong support of the National Institutes of Health. He set as a goal, similar to President’s Kennedy’s aspiration to land a man on the moon, to be the Nation to cure cancer, and asked Vice President Biden to lead that effort. And, he spoke about, what is perhaps his proudest achievement, the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, which he credits with providing access to millions of Americans.

Through various funded programs, the ACA recognizes that income, race and other socioeconomic factors influence health status. Data have shown for decades that minorities are substantially underrepresented across the health professions, from healthcare delivery to research, and health experts agree that improving these statistics can lead to improved health status among poor and minority citizens. Indeed, while relatively few themes were met with broad agreement in the Chamber, the President’s observation that every American should be given a fair chance to succeed in our Country was greeted with applause by both Democrats and Republicans.

In about 12 months, President Obama will leave office. He, like his predecessors, urged the Congress to preserve and strengthen what he believes to be his principal accomplishments. And, while he acknowledged that as a Nation, we had not achieved agreement on how to address the complex question of health, he implored the Congress to strengthen and improve the ACA.

Candidates for the Office of President will spend the year proposing and debating various issues, including what to do about healthcare. The options range from “repeal and replace” to “preserve and strengthen” to single payer. We do not yet know who will win the White House in November, and so the direction of the national debate is unclear for now. What we do know is that important issues such as effective access to the Nation’s healthcare system by the poor and health challenged, and efforts to continue to diversify our Nation’s health workforce will be crucial to our enduring effort to improve the wellbeing of our Nation’s citizens.

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