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Senate Committee Explores Factors that Contribute to Health

November 22, 2013—The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging held a Nov. 20 hearing to explore why the nation experiences disparities in life expectancy across regions and within cities. Experts testified that other factors, such as education and income, are key levers to improving health outcomes, and highlighted the need to expand and invest in discretionary programs that address such factors.

In his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said, “If people don’t have access to health care, if they don’t have access to education, if they don’t have access to jobs and affordable housing then we end up paying not only in terms of human suffering and the shortening of life expectancy, but in actual dollars.”

David Kindig, M.D., Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Population Health Sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, said, “While health care is necessary for health, it is not the only or even the most important factor in producing longer life and lives of high quality and productivity… Modern epidemiology and social science have established that health is produced by many factors including medical care and health behaviors and, importantly, components of the social and physical environment in which we live in like income, education, social support, and the structure of our neighborhoods. The bottom line is that we will not improve our poor performance unless we balance our financial and policy investments across this whole portfolio of factors.”

When Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) asked how to improve health outcomes, Dr. Kindig called for funding to research policy choices that determine the cost-effectiveness of various supports or programs that improve overall health and close the gap in health disparities. Steven Woolf, M.D., M.P.H., Director of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University, also noted that people need to understand how policies that are not conventionally thought of as health-related affect health outcomes and noted such policies can be key levers in improving outcomes.

In closing, Chairman Sanders said the nation needs to invest in creating a healthier society, which will end up saving tax payers money.

The subcommittee also heard testimony from Lisa Berkman, Ph.D., Director of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies at Harvard University; Nicholas Eberstadt, Ph.D., M.P.A., MSc, Henry Wendt Chair of Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute; Michael Reisch, Ph.D., M.S.W., Daniel Thursz Distinguished Professor of Social Justice at the University of Maryland School of Social Work; and Sabrina Shrader, who told her personal story about her rise out of poverty.


Alexandra Khalife
Legislative Analyst
Telephone: 202-828-0418


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