Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, spoke at UC Berkeley’s “Fighting for Health Equity in 2017 and Beyond” on Monday about her stance on the Affordable Care Act and the GOP’s health care bill.
The town hall meeting was held in the Valley Life Sciences Building and focused on Lee’s involvement with public health in politics, such as her work on HIV and mental health. According to Seth Holmes, the co-chair of Berkeley Center for Social Medicine, it was important to hear Lee’s perspective and how students can get involved with improving health care for the United States, especially in light of the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the GOP health care bill released Monday. The analysis found that by 2026, more than 24 million people will be left without health insurance.
“The Affordable Care Act is saving lives and closing that life expectancy gap with people of color,” Lee said during the forum. “We’ve been fighting so hard for so long. … Health care is a basic human right.”
Lee said because of the ACA, the rate of people without health insurance in California decreased from 17.2 percent to 8.2 percent in 2015. She noted that 28 million people across the United States were insured after the ACA was implemented.
According to Lee, young African American children living in West Oakland are expected to die 15 years earlier than white residents in Oakland Hills, which is most clearly emphasized through health care inequities. She said health care should be focused on addressing safe housing and streets, clean air and water, access to fresh food, quality education and financial aid.
Deborah Freedman Lustig, the academic coordinator for the Berkeley Center for Social Medicine, said Lee was chosen because of her strong position in health care and health equity. Lustig added that UC Berkeley students should care about these issues because they will have to find their own health care in a few years.
“We (originally) invited her in fall because we are trying to promote the concept ‘structural competency’ — a new concept within health care and social welfare,” Lustig said. “(It) is the idea that structural issues like poverty have a huge impact on people’s health.”
According to Lustig, the problem with “structural competency” is that people view structural issues and health as different affairs. She also said health should be discussed at a large societal scale before it is addressed in individual cases at the doctor’s office.
Bozwell Bueno, a campus senior and public health major, said he came to the event because he wanted to learn more about the proposed GOP health care bill. According to Bueno, students are not well informed about health care because they are busy with schoolwork, but when they graduate, it will become an important issue they have to understand, so learning about complicated health care policies is necessary.
“As a student, (health care) felt as if it is something distant that is happening in Congress,” said Meghan Reddy, a campus senior working with private online health plan system Peer Health Exchange. “It felt like (Lee) was connecting everything out of (my) control.”