America’s Health Was on the Ballot

Lanie Edwards shows her I Voted sticker
A Los Angeles resident after voting on November 3. Photo: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The 2020 election was the most consequential election of our time. The well-being of the nation was on the ballot.

Former vice president Joe Biden appears to have won the White House, though the election has yet to be officially certified. Control of the US Senate will be determined in January. We can only hope that when the dust settles, America will begin to heal.

The COVID-19 pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 238,000 Americans — including almost 18,000 Californians. They were beloved family members, dear friends, neighbors, coworkers, and community members. We owe it to those who died to put the country’s health above partisan politics. That starts with crafting a dramatically different federal pandemic response that relies on science and recognizes our collective responsibility to protect community and public health.

The pandemic makes clear just how interconnected our health is in America. Our federal lawmakers must return to the essential work of making health coverage universally available while assuring its affordability. They must build on, rather than tear down, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by making practical and meaningful improvements that are widely supported and sustainable both fiscally and politically.

Much of the work that lies ahead is about making our health care system more equitable for those who have endured systemic racism and blatant discrimination. The Biden administration will need to regain the trust of our immigrant families by reversing the many policies that create obstacles for their full participation in society, including the Trump administration’s public charge rule. We hope the new administration will take active steps to ensure that our health care system delivers the respect, dignity, compassion, and quality that have long been denied to far too many Americans — especially Black people.

We know that there is no health without a healthy democracy. Think of an engaged and informed citizenry as America’s immune system. The more that people participate in civic life, the healthier they are, according to research on civic participation conducted in the US and 43 other countries. There may be no more potent public health policy than robust voting rights and easy access to the ballot. Yet those rights are under continuous and direct attack from people who appear not to respect the core principles of our democracy: equal protection under the law, unfettered voting rights, and equal opportunity for all. This election’s voting has ended, but the important work of strengthening and protecting our democracy must not rest.

What does this mean for California? During the Trump administration, we counted on our state to be a leader in resisting policies that harmed communities and undermined public health. Under the Biden administration, California will have the opportunity to work alongside the federal government to achieve common goals. So many health care issues deserve our leaders’ time and attention, including universal coverage, health equity, the modernization of Medi-Cal, and how best to meet the health and social service needs of growing numbers of people experiencing homelessness. CHCF will double down on its efforts to reshape the health care system so that it works for all Californians.

Regardless of how the rest of the election process plays out, major challenges will remain. The winter months, when temperatures drop and Californians are likely to spend more time indoors, will heighten the risks of COVID-19 transmission. The state is in an economic downturn that dwarfs the Great Recession. The Supreme Court today will hear arguments in a case designed to overturn the ACA and wreak havoc on a health care system that every one of us depends on.

Just as we have done in every other challenge that has come our way, this state will find ways to move forward, protect people, and make progress. That is the California way.