by Scott Becker, MS, Executive Director, APHL
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The day after the election, I was invited to participate on a call led by Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor and assistant to the president for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. I was in Tampa about to deliver an annual lecture to students at the University of South Florida College of Public Health (Go USF Bulls!) but took the time to listen in to the call. Earlier in the day, I caught portions of President Obama’s press conference and, being a political junkie, I was more than mildly curious about how one could spin the results of the past day’s election.
Jarrett stated the president’s post-election outlook, essentially conveying the same calm approach that Obama displayed in his national press conference: he anticipates that now the two parties will work together and examine aspects of the health reform policy that may need tweaking. She then opened the call for questions. Two things happened. First, I hit *1 on my phone as soon as the White House operator gave the signal so that I could ask a question. The second was I just realized that I was having an OSM or, in other words, an “oh sh** moment.” It was an OSM because I now had to think of a question in case my line was chosen.
My turn came quickly, and I spoke briefly to Valerie Jarrett about the public health laboratory mission. I reminded her that public health serves all Americans, no matter their party affiliation and no matter how they voted the day before, and I also noted that we appreciate the efforts of HHS Secretary Katherine Sebelius and CDC Director Tom Frieden to move public health forward into the spotlight. I asked for a summary of the president’s current position on public health provisions, specifically the Prevention and Public Health Fund. “Do we have the President’s support?”
“That is the easiest question I’ve been asked all day,” said Jarrett. “Absolutely.”
Jarrett went on to say that President Obama is firmly in support of the Prevention and Public Health Fund and considers the public health provisions of the Affordable Care Act to be vital for the nation.
There will undoubtedly be tough days ahead. There will be many attempts to stall the implementation of the legislation, repeal the bill (highly unlikely) or eek away at various provisions. Hearing from Jarrett was a strong, public affirmation that President Obama recognizes the importance of public health and its role in health reform.
As the political climate shifts in Washington, APHL will continue to advocate for funding for public health laboratories and will share information with our members so that you too can raise your voice in this debate. Public health is for all Americans – and so are public health labs.