Who, Exactly, Does Congress Represent?

29 Aug
    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
    -Republicans: 240
    -Democrats: 197
    -Vacancies: 4
    -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)

    -Republicans: 47
    -Democrats: 51
    -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.


Posted by on August 29, 2012 in Congress


5 responses to “Who, Exactly, Does Congress Represent?

  1. Deborah Zuckswerth

    August 29, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    A thoughtful perspective; thanks Nicole! The metric that jumped out at me was the average age, in both the House and the Senate. I would like to see some big changes for the 113th (Congress), both in representation and policy.And to do that somehow we need to get the average voter more engaged, or at least informed, of the issues and the consequences of not exercising the right to vote.

  2. Nicole Fisher

    August 29, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    Would it be easier over the coming days if I have my own WordPress login?

  3. Moses Tafarki

    August 29, 2012 at 4:53 pm

    The question that we should be asking is not who the representatives are (hence who they represent), but rather how do we get those they represent to give up a little bit more so that more can be covered.

    For instance, how many of us are willing to give up a benefit in our insurance plan so that the Black, Hispanic or Asian child in Alabama can get access to care?

    While it is important to know who these policy makers are or who they represent, our claim that they do not represent us may not be that accurate.

    The way I see it, there are far more people with access to healthcare than those who do not.

    These policy makers, no matter what we think about them, represent a people (actually a majority, based on the date given). If I did not know those associated with this article better, I would have said we are race baiting.

    What I am saying is not new to all of us who want true representation (hence access to care) reflected in policies. However, by focusing on those who make the policy, we may risk asking the right questions and soliciting/advocating for the wrong answer.

    The question is, how much we are willing to give up so that more can get covered/access? It may well be that the answer will lead us back to the point of the article.

    • Joe Vizza

      February 11, 2014 at 8:44 pm

      There doesn’t need to be winners and losers with respect to access to health care. Only when health care is a commodity in a capitalist system must there be winners and losers.

  4. Lauren Drogos

    August 29, 2012 at 7:42 pm

    Great piece! On another level, the number of Latina and African American women in Congress is at an even larger disparity. However, men are not entirely to blame. In presidential elections, women have voted in higher numbers than men for the past 50 years. The limitation comes in the form a small pool of women who “look like us” who are running for office. This highlights the need to support women in career paths which may bring them to serve in public office. More choice, more diversity?


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