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Health Stew? What's Up With That?

Posted by John McDonough  November 7, 2011 02:00 AM

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Gideon Gil, the Globe's earnest health editor with a melodic name, blew his trumpet and asked me to start this blog. He was a reader of a blog I started in 2005 when I was executive director of Health Care For All, Massachusetts' consumer health advocacy group. He liked it enough to think I might create some motion and emotion here at ...

Why Health Stew and what's this blog about? I like stew because lots of different ingredients get thrown in, often with delicious results. I'm interested in lots of things related to health care policy and politics, and how odd things can fit together. And I love soup.

At HCFA, I had lots of help, and here I'm a one-man band. I hope to attract co-conspirators along the way, but for now, just you and me. At HCFA, I made blogging part of my daily work. Currently, I've got a more than full-time plus job at the Harvard School of Public Health so entries here will be less regular, though I'll do my best. There's so much going on and this can get addictive.

I pay close attention to issues relating to health care access, costs, quality, and inequities, not necessarily in that order. My interests include health policy in Greater Boston, in Massachusetts, across the US of A, and around the world especially when "around the world" holds lessons for us Americans. I care about health as much as health care, and public health in particular. Most of what ails us, individually and as a society, is more about our behavior and lifestyle and far less about medical care, even though we spend so much time focused on the care part.

Because of my work and life in Massachusetts, I have deep interest in Massachusetts health reform, the 2006 law (aka: RomneyCare), and our continuing efforts to address costs and quality. I am also active in supporting full and effective implementation of the national health reform law called the Affordable Care Act (aka: Obamacare, the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act) and recently published a book explaining the ACA titled Inside National Health Reform from the University of California Press and the Milbank Fund. I am also a board member of FamiliesUSA, a national consumer health advocacy organization based in DC and started more than 20 years ago by Phil Villers of Concord.

Recently, I've become interested in nutrition and its role in our collective health. This took off three years ago when my wife and I embraced a "whole grain/plant-based diet" (aka: vegan); she's about 95% there and I'm around 99%. I am convinced we will never "fix" health care in the US until we first fix food. The big driver of our health system crisis is chronic disease, and most chronic diseases are related to diet more than anything else. I know exercise is important; I think diet is even more consequential.

I do appreciate exercise. My favorites are walking and a brand of yoga called "Bikram," which I do 2-3 times a week. " Hot yoga," it's called, in a room heated to 105 degrees where we do the same 26 postures in the same order every class. Other forms of yoga appeal to me, though this one that has stuck for the past 3½ years. So maybe we'll talk some yoga and exercise as well.

How's that for the start of a Stew? And that's just for starters. I adore books, movies and even some TV, so maybe we can find a fit for that in here once in a while.

"Who am I? Why am I here?" That's a quote from James Stockdale, 1992 vice presidential candidate with Ross Perot, and it seems to fit here.

Obama+Signs+Edward+Kennedy+Serve+America+Act+-MxkaSwOC4gl.jpgLast January, I started a new gig as a professor of public health practice at HSPH and director of its new Center for Public Health Leadership. I hope to highlight some exciting things going on there and in public health more broadly. I spent most of 2010 as a visiting fellow at Hunter College in New York City where I wrote my new book and developed a mad crush on NYC. Between 2008 and 2010, I worked in DC in the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), one of the two Senate committees responsible for writing the ACA; I went down there at the request of the Committee Chairman, the late and great Senator Ted Kennedy. So I saw the construction of the ACA from the inside. And I hope to bring some of that perspective to my writing here.

Between 2003 and 2008, I was executive director at HCFA. Besides being deeply involved in the creation of the 2006 MA health reform law, I got HCFA involved in quality, racial and ethnic health disparities, oral health, children's mental health, e-health, and a lot more. It's a great organization, as are its sister organizations: Health Law Advocates, Community Catalyst, the Public Policy Institute and the Commonwealth Care Alliance.

Between 1998 and 2003, I was an associate professor at the Heller School at Brandeis University in Waltham where I wrote another book, Experiencing Politics: A Legislator?s Stories of Government and Health Care, also from the University of CA Press and Milbank. It's my best effort to explain how politics really works in real life, all kinds of politics, public and private.

Between 1985 and 1997, I was a state representative from Jamaica Plain, also representing chunks of Roxbury, Dorchester, and Roslindale. In my first year, I got appointed to the Health Care Committee and fell in love with health policy, especially the Massachusetts kind. I served stints as chairman of the Insurance Committee and the Health Care Committee. Recognizing its many flaws, I carry a deep and abiding respect for our Great and General Court. While in the legislature, I got a Masters in Public Administration from the Kennedy School and a Doctorate in Public Health from the University of Michigan.

James_Michael_Curley.jpgI grew up in Waltham, one of four offspring of Irish immigrant parents. My 93 year-old mother worked for years as a cook in the household of the legendary Boston Mayor and Massachusetts Governor, James Michael Curley; she actually postponed her 1948 wedding to my father until Curley got released from federal prison and could host the event.

So that's a little bit about me and this new blog. I hope you find value and enjoyment on this ride, and I hope you will find time to make your own comments.

And why am I here? Go ask Gideon.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

John E. McDonough is a professor of practice at the Harvard School of Public Health. He is the author of the book “Inside National Health Reform”, published in 2011 by More »


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