Let’s create a holiday for health policy. Not now. But eventually. A holiday that celebrates that the worst of the pandemic is behind us and makes a space to mourn what we’ve lost. A holiday to talk about health care policy.
It’s an unrepentantly dry topic. But it has earned a holiday.
One very American thing about our holidays is that they are never celebrated in a unified way, but they prompt us to grapple over the same issue. July Fourth: What does it mean to be an American and who gets to celebrate that? Memorial Day: What do we as a society owe veterans for their sacrifices? Even LGBTQ Pride Day: Behind the glitter and the flags, who gets to claim this day, and what’s the agenda?
Health policy could use a day to focus on the collective moments of cohesion, disagreement, and narrative building that American holidays embody. Its heroes and its villains could use a feast, a parade, some fireworks, a day off work — and, to be very American, a sale — to reflect on the fallout of this pandemic. We have a lot to take stock of. We need something as capacious as an American holiday to make sure we reflect on the complicated interplay of health care policy this pandemic put in the spotlight.
We need a holiday for health policy because it requires our attention. It’s the unacknowledged child of so many fields — public health and health care, law, economics, and more — and needs the kind of recognition that allows for more holistic consideration. Ubiquitous as it is, health policy is stored piecemeal among various disciplines, too overwhelming for any one of them.
Now that we are in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are bombarded with health policy headlines and are privy to health policy jargon that once went unheard outside bureaucratic and academic meetings. Today it is part of daily news conferences.
To say that health care policy is something people hadn’t thought about before may seem like an understatement. Not long ago, anyone who bothered to do that was looking at a two-dimensional slice of a complicated system. Covid-19 has poured molten metal into the health policy anthill, creating a metal cast showing how each little section connects to the other. We didn’t need Covid-19 to show us the fault lines of U.S. health care are, but it is showing us where the cracks connect.
A holiday could keep some of these lights on. Unlike battles over health insurance, which play out over elections and perilously slow judicial processes, policy around Covid-19 policy has moved with lightning speed. For what seems like the first time, the general public wants the nitty gritty details of health policy issues. What do those all those agencies’ acronyms mean? Who has the protective masks? Who buys them and who stores them? How many? Who gets them? And when? To ask such questions last year you would have been a paranoid health care policy wonk. Today you’re just skimming the headlines.
The ask for a holiday isn’t meant to turn a crisis into a specific agenda. It’s making a platform where the pushing and shoving can happen openly, with public scrutiny and — every emergency doctor’s favorite — fireworks. The old Jewish joke “Two Jews, three opinions” is the spirit of the holiday. One pandemic, thousands of health care issues.
Covid-19 has shown us there are arguments we need to have about health policy, discrimination, care delivery, and more, arguments we have been having in isolation but now see as clearly interconnected. Arguments when, unresolved, have dire consequences.
It has shown how the usually siloed, cumbersome, and fragmented details of health policy matter. A holiday for it — a parade, a ceremony, a large meal, a yahrzeit, whatever you need to do — is a way to make the Gordian knot of health policy and its equally Gordian strings culturally accessible.
We need this holiday to check on our progress at fixing the health care policy shortcomings that Covid-19 laid bare. It would provide a moment to communally evaluate, analyze, and reorient towards the health care policy issues that dominated the headlines and those that didn’t but should have. The headlines will be replaced by others and the hospital surges fade, but the health policy issues will persist. There is no vaccine for health care policy problems.
We need a holiday so we don’t forget just how disastrous our patchwork policies about public health have been and resolve to right that wrong.
We also need time to mourn the people who died too early. The people who died working to save other lives. The people who died because of misinformation or not enough of information or because they didn’t have the agency to act on it.
Health policy doesn’t sell movie scripts (though stay tuned for the 2022 Oscars). But as an American holiday, it will have a narrative, a story that is worth telling and retelling. And we need to remember who the villains were: the price gougers, the hucksters peddling pseudo-science, the demagogues foisting xenophobia onto undiscriminating epidemiology to boost reelection prospects.
The new holiday can also help us remind ourselves what makes health policy heroes: steadfast individuals using data to make decisions, communicating calmly without bias, making hard choices to save lives and not electability. It will also shine a light on the supporting cast — grocery store clerks, food delivery folks, utility workers, and other service economy workers — so our memories about their contributions don’t fade away.
Even without a holiday, there will be remembrances, plaques, memorials, and statues to remember those who died and those who served. Those won’t be enough to create cultural memory around the health policies that influenced how many memorials we will be having. We aren’t going to name streets or squares or bridges after this pandemic. That’s why we need a holiday to reflect on, or at least start to be able to reflect on, the magnitude of this event. A holiday can make the importance of health care policy accessible in the American cultural landscape.
This holiday can step in for the time when we couldn’t hold ceremonies, for the unheld family celebrations, meals with friends, parties, communal events, and parades, for the wakes and funerals and days sitting shiva.
I envision reading special weekend issues in this or that publication times to the holiday exploring health policy changes this pandemic forced us to make and the changes we’ll need to put in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Let’s make a day to celebrate in a way that is unabashedly Americans and decidedly together, in person, so we remember how we once took our ability to do that for granted.
And when we do so, let’s talk about health policy.
Sam Dubin graduated from the NYU Grossman School of Medicine in April 2020, is now working as an intern at Bellevue Hospital, and is scheduled to start a residency in internal medicine in July 2020.