The following post was authored by Wright on Health blogging partner, Nicole Fisher.
2012 has been quite a year for those in the world of health policy. We’re only three-fourths of the way through and we’ve seen incredibly nasty Affordable Care Act battles, a monumental Supreme Court decision and are still working hard before the upcoming tough and divisive presidential election. Despite all the hours we spend buried in HHS data and fighting our wonky skirmishes in OpEds, every now and then we are confronted by the remarkable and often misinformed rhetoric of politicians. It is at those times we must take a step back and contemplate the big picture of health policy and the impact, or lack thereof, of our work on those making policy decisions.
The past few months have sadly shown us just how bad politicians in particular can be at understanding their constituents, science and health (and, some would argue, how the world works in general). Granted, not all gaffes and misinformation are as bad as Tom Akin’s assertions about “legitimate rape”, but with each day it appears that another piece of the Affordable Care Act becomes political fodder or another state finds that it can’t make ends meet for the fiscal calendar and programs need to be cut. Many of these tough decisions are directly related to health care and health policy. But when we hear ignorance publicly being touted by those elected to represent us we have to ask, just whom, exactly, does Congress represent?
The easy answer: old, white men.
Although I would never argue that we need any form of required representation based on gender, race, ethnicity or religion, it is important to look at the trends of those making decisions on our behalf.
Out of 541 Congressional seats, there are exactly 93 filled by women (or 17.2 percent of the Members). There are presently eight percent, or exactly 43 African Americans, with none being elected to Senate. Hispanics and Latinos combined in Congress are 31 strong, with only two in Senate. Twelve Members in total are Asian or Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islander. The only American Indian (Native American) serves in the House.
Here is a current breakdown of your 112th Congress:
House of Representatives
-Number of Women: 76
-Number of African Americans: 43
-Number of Hispanic or Latinos: 29
-Average Age: 57
-Average Time In Office: 10 years (5 terms)
-Independents: 2 (Caucus with Democrats)
-Number of Women: 17
-Number of African Americans: 0
-Number of Hispanic or Latinos: 2
-Average Age: 62
-Average Time In Office: 11.5 years (2 terms)
It should be no surprise to anyone then that those making health care and health policy decisions on our behalf not only do not represent us, they don’t necessarily relate to us or use the same working knowledge of the world that we do. While there are plenty of older, white men who make well informed, thoughtful decisions about health care and minority health, it is important to stop and reflect as health care recipients, voters and for some of us advisors, that the people we are electing and advising are not the same people they are representing.