In the wake of renewed Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-New Haven, delivered an impassioned speech Monday night at the Yale School of Public Health on the future of national health care reform.

DeLauro’s speech was part of a speaker series sponsored by the School of Public Health every semester. Although the events are open to the public, the series is geared toward first-year health policy students enrolled in the Health Policy Leadership Seminar. The lectures serve to expose students to leaders in the health policy sphere, according to public health professor Shelley Geballe LAW ’76 SPH ’95. DeLauro spoke about the importance of a health care infrastructure that centered on ordinary people and worked effectively during national emergencies.

“[DeLauro] is an incredible national leader of public health — she’s inspiring, and she’s literally blocks away,” said Geballe, who teaches the Health Policy Leadership Seminar. “Her life’s work spans all the issues that students here are likely to encounter, so I thought it would be a really neat way to kick off their tenure at Yale.”

Monday’s event, titled “Preserving the Health Care Safety Net: An Insider’s Perspective,” began with an introduction from Dean of the School of Public Health Sten Vermund. Vermund praised DeLauro’s longstanding service to the Elm City and her strong leadership in Congress.

DeLauro opened her speech by emphasizing the importance of preparing for and preventing threats to public health. Ongoing budget cuts in recent years have damaged the nation’s ability to respond to public health emergencies, DeLauro said, adding that federal funding has not kept pace with the rising cost of biomedical research.

In addition, DeLauro underscored the relationship between drug addiction and mental health, also noting that President Donald Trump’s administration has yet to officially declare the opioid crisis a national emergency. The country should be able to respond to public health emergencies with the efficiency of responding to natural disasters, DeLauro said, pointing to the disaster relief funds that Congress swiftly approved in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

“We need a health care system that works for people here, and we need an infrastructure that lets us prepare for public health emergencies,” she said. “We can’t keep reinventing the wheel every time there’s a public health emergency.”

DeLauro also focused on the fate of the ACA, which is once again facing repeal in the Senate. This latest effort is led by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Bill Cassidy, R-La., who are pushing to pass the repeal bill through the budget reconciliation process before Sept. 30. Budget reconciliation allows a bill to pass with a simple majority vote, instead of the 60 votes that are usually required.

DeLauro denounced the Graham-Cassidy bill, condemning the proposed legislation’s plans to eliminate provisions such as the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. She urged students to call their senators before the Sept. 30 deadline, pushing an “all hands on deck” attitude and reminding the audience that it was the people’s voice that stopped Republican repeal attempts over the summer.

Finally, DeLauro also fielded questions from the audience, which ranged from the government’s lackluster response to the opioid crisis to the possibility of a single-payer health care system and universal health care.

“I think it was interesting to hear from a representative — someone who can actually make a difference in these situations,” Scott Currie SPH ’19 said. “America is unique, in terms of its health system, so a lot has to go into mitigating harms and capitalizing on improvements.”

This event was the second in the Health Policy Leadership speaker series, following a talk given last week by DataHaven Executive Director Mark Abraham ’04. The next event will feature Jim Wadleigh, the CEO of Access Health CT, and Jill Zorn, senior policy officer of the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut.

Geballe said that she hopes students were able to gain more insight into health care reform, given DeLauro’s intimate knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes in health policy. She added that she would encourage students to take up DeLauro’s call to action to oppose ACA repeal.

“The advantage students always have is, because they don’t have all the history of how you got to a spot, there’s an ability to think outside of the box for solutions to problems,” Geballe said. “Students have a whole lot more energy and broad connections. When I was [in school], we stopped the Vietnam War. It’s [this] generation’s turn to make sure everyone has health care.”

Ellen Kan | ellen.kan@yale.edu