Health issues must be addressed with action

On Saturday, May 5, I’m going to the state capital to rally for universal health care. It may be the week before finals, it may be a two-hour round-trip drive, and it may not make a difference, but these details are irrelevant. Access to health care is one of the most pressing issues for our state and for our country, and so together, we must do something about it.

You all know the facts about our broken health system. On these pages, I’ve written before about the over 400,000 Connecticut residents without health insurance, about the $480 billion that are wasted each year in the U.S. health system, and about the commonsense alternatives that lie within our reach.

Today I write about action. In my last column of the semester, I want to explore how we can begin to implement fundamentally good ideas to improve the public’s health.

For one, we won’t find the answer in simply describing the problem. Statistics are important for creating evidence-based policy, but at the end of the day, having 45 million or 47 million uninsured Americans is still millions too many. The challenge is to communicate what we already know to policy-makers in order to enact real change.

Even when we turn to policy, however, it is easy to be caught in an analysis paralysis. So-called policy experts in Washington have been debating the ideal health system for years, but they can never seem to agree with one another. Instead, they tend to accentuate their differences and propagate only more confusion. Policy analysis is also important, but it is ultimately a flawed mechanism for achieving real progress.

The only solution to inaction on health care is by taking action ourselves. More groups are coming together now than ever before around the issue of universal health care, but unless a large number of voters fight against special interests and unite around a single policy, the latest efforts for national health reform will fall short, just like the last six did.

Community action sounds like a great ideal of democracy, but can it ever be obtained in our increasingly atomized society? As any Yalie knows, getting 30 students to come to an event is hard enough, let alone organizing 300 million Americans. We are all overbooked at an increasingly early age and are siphoned off into our own interest areas without concern for the larger whole. The rush at the end of the semester around final papers and exams perhaps best demonstrates this phenomenon. You probably don’t even have the time to finish reading this column, let alone attend a rally.

The springtime weather that we’ve had in recent days, however, gives me hope that all isn’t lost. For the first time in months, I saw hundreds of students taking a break from the craziness of daily life to enjoy the sun and one another. On Sunday, I had a chance to participate in the highly successful AIDS Walk with my fellow residents of New Haven, and I felt empowered that our society could find solidarity around a common cause. We all have the ability within ourselves to come together as a community, but sometimes it takes a moment of reflection to realize this.

Coming together is the first step, but what we do as a community is what really matters. In our world of increasingly entrenched and powerful lobbies, we citizens can often feel powerless. These barriers, however, should only strengthen our resolve to find innovative ways to fight these interest groups.

Students in particular need to play a leading role in effectively mobilizing people in today’s changing political landscape. Students come to the debate with a fresh optimism about the realm of the possible, and we are the most knowledgeable about new technologies for communication. The emergence of groups such as the Roosevelt Institution, the nation’s first student think tank, and of social networking Web sites for political candidates is evidence of the growing potential of our generation to influence the political process.

To make a difference, however, we students must act. I encourage you to participate in the trip to Hartford being organized by the Yale Democrats, and I urge you to help where you can with groups that are working to improve the public’s health. This summer offers us all the opportunity to step away from the grind and reconnect with the issues that are affecting our community. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Together we can build a healthier world.

Robert Nelb is a junior in Timothy Dwight College. His column appears on alternate Thursdays.

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