The recent report by the National Center for Health Statistics showing a decline in life expectancy in the U.S. in 2015 highlights a point largely overlooked in post-election discussions about health policy under the Trump Administration. The significant increases in health insurance coverage under the ACA have not resulted in population-wide improvements in life expectancy. This is not because the coverage increases aren’t important; without question they have made a difference in the lives of millions. Rather, it’s because health care plays a relatively small role in determining population-level health outcomes. More important are the so-called social determinants of health, the “conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live and age, and the wider forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life.” This suggests that the new Administration’s economic, educational, environmental, labor, and housing policies will have more to say about the health of Americans than its proposals for replacing the ACA or reforming Medicare and Medicaid.
Public health policies, and public health law, can also have a major impact on population health. Several years ago, the CDC published a list of the “Ten Great Public Health Achievements in the 20th Century,” which it credited with adding 25 years to life expectancy in the U.S. The list included immunizations, control of infectious diseases, family planning, reductions in tobacco use, work-place and motor-vehicular safety and safer and healthier foods. These goals and other public health objectives, including reductions in opioid use and obesity, remain paramount to preventing further reductions in life expectancy.
To date, little attention has been paid to the incoming administration’s views on most of these issues. Although Trump has nominated Rep. Tom Price to be Secretary of HHS, he has yet to name his picks for the head of CDC or for Surgeon General. The Trump transition website does not mention public health; nor did many public health issues, other than the opioid epidemic, receive much notice during the election. Continue reading