Social workers are a diverse group of helping professionals united under an ethical code to uphold values of service, social justice, and respect for the dignity and worth of every person. For as long as social work has existed, the profession has been anchored in advancing well-being for all, especially vulnerable and marginalized groups. The three social workers who author this blog share over 30 years combined experience in the field of health policy, working to assure conditions where people can attain the highest possible standard of health for themselves and their families.
We launch this blog at a crossroads in our nation’s history, barely a week after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Health and health care proved a pivotal issue in the 2016 presidential election, and Americans are waiting in anticipation for a clear picture of the future of health care in the United States, especially the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Will ACA be fully repealed, as President Trump has promised? Will some parts of the law stand or be modified? And, if repealed, will the ACA be replaced with an alternative that keeps coverage for 16.4 million people newly insured? While there are more questions than answers at this time, our nation has faced complex health policy challenges before – and social workers have led the charge.
In 1961, President Lyndon B. Johnson was sworn in during a period of contentious debate about health care for poor and aging Americans. In years prior, several attempts to establish health insurance programs for these priority populations had failed. Sensing an urgent need, President Johnson called upon Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Wilbur Cohen – a social worker by trade – to break through the gridlock and develop a bipartisan plan. Secretary Cohen would eventually succeed, and is now regarded as “father” of Medicare and Medicaid.
President Johnson later reflected on Secretary Cohen’s monumental efforts:
Today the reformers would do well, I think, if they would just take Wilbur Cohen's life and study it. In a time when we are hearing so much about power, black power, white power, green power, and student power, perhaps someone should do an analysis of another kind of power--"Wilbur power."
Wilbur Cohen knows that you cannot move a nation from an ivory tower. But he has also learned that you can't move a nation with a bulldozer. It took more than 20 years to achieve Medicare, and this man's determination and his skill in the agonizing art of turning dreams into law worked the miracle when lesser men could only stamp their feet in frustration…
…He knows the need to win new victories in new ways against disease and ignorance and poverty. He knows how urgent it is to erase the old indignities and to do it now, to end the old inequalities and to do it now, and to replace neglect with opportunity and to do it now.
Our goal in launching this blog is to channel our own “Wilbur Power” – to use our social work health policy experience to help others digest current developments in health care as they unfold. More importantly, we aim to explore how health policy intersects with social factors that contribute to health – housing, education, transportation, discrimination, and more. We see our current environment as full of challenges, opportunities, and implications for systems that impact our health, and we will closely monitor how the rapid changes we expect to see in the U.S. align with the values of social work.
We are pleased you have joined us and are eager to begin the dialogue.
Will Francis, LMSW
Government Relations Director,
National Association of Social Workers,
Cossy Hough, LCSW
Clinical Assistant Professor, The University of Texas at Austin,
School of Social Work
Anna Stelter, LMSW, MPH
Health Policy Analyst
Texas Health Institute
Alison Mohr Boleware, MSSW
Mental Health Policy,