Public Health Policy and Politics

State Capitol photo by Raisa Koltun
As Fellows met Tuesday, February 15, in an Assembly Hearing room in the state capitol building, cheers could be heard from the demonstrators convened in the rotunda to protest Governor Walker's budget repair bill, particularly the proposal to eliminate collective bargaining for state workers. Serendipitously, the "policy and politics" Fellow meeting theme was right on target.
After a brief introduction to advocacy in public health and a “Wisconsin Government 101” lesson by Fellow Raisa Koltun, the group welcomed Sandy Pasch, the second-term legislator from Assembly District 22. As a psychiatric nurse with training in bioethics, Representative Pasch spoke on a number of public health topics, including the importance of access to health care, challenges in communicating public health messages, and convincing legislators to make health a priority.

Representative Pasch identified challenges and opportunities for public health in the current political environment. Since public health yields savings over a longer timeline, investing in public health can be a tough sell—especially in economically volatile times. When she successfully steers public health policy through the legislature, she half-jokingly tells her dissenting colleagues, "Forty years from now, you're going to thank me for this!"

Fellows and staff asked Pasch how public health can have more of a voice in steering policy. When legislators disregard evidence-based information on which to base policy, Pasch advised public health practitioners to take the information back to the electorate, set up individual appointments with legislators, and encourage constituents to share personal stories related to the topic. “If we are serious about reigning in healthcare costs, we are going to have to do a lot more public health,” Pasch says.