THE BLOG
12/27/2014 01:10 pm ET Updated Feb 26, 2015

Dr. America's Top 10 Health Justice Accomplishments of 2014

Daniele Carotenuto Photography via Getty Images

As we close 2014, I want to take a moment to look back at what We the People accomplished in health policy and health justice this year. By celebrating these accomplishments, large and small, I hope our community of advocates and activists can find inspiration to keep up the hard work that waits for us in 2015.  

10: The Physicians Payments Sunshine Act. This provision of the Affordable Care Act requires drug and device companies to make yearly public reports about their gifts, payments, honoraria and other services they provide to teaching hospitals and to individual health providers. The National Physicians Alliance has advocated for the Sunshine Act because of the dangers to patients when the pharmaceutical industry get too financially cozy with health care providers. There is still a lot of work to do to on these conflicts of interest, but this is a good step in the right direction.  

9: The Supreme Court stood up for women's health in Arizona. By upholding a lower court ruling, the Supreme Court stopped Arizona lawmakers from imposing unscientific, excessive restrictions on how doctors use medication to help women with abortions. Thanks to the Supreme Court for telling Arizona politicians to exit the exam room.

8: The Obama administration invests $1 billion in childhood education. Education is a critical social determinant of health, and we are learning so much more about all the positive impacts of good preschool on child health and beyond. This investment in giving our kids a strong, healthy start will pay off huge for them and for all of us.

7: Voters in Colorado and North Dakota defeated personhood ballot initiatives. During this recent 2014 election cycle, extremist ballot initiatives in these two states were trying to re-categorize a fetus as a child. Fortunately, voters said no to criminalizing women exercising their reproductive health rights. There is so much we still need to do for reproductive health rights in America as we enter 2015, but defeating these misguided, non-scientific ideas is important.

6: Increased support for paid sick days in states and cities nationwide. Massachusetts passed a ballot measure to expand paid sick leave for more workers.  Similar policies passed in the cities of Oakland and San Diego in California, and in Montclair and Trenton, NJ, and in New York City.  These policies were brought up in lots of state legislatures, so let's make our voices heard and make healthy workplaces a reality.

5: #WhiteCoats4BlackLives.  Students from 70 schools across the country wore their white coats for "die-ins" and other demonstrations on December 10 to protest the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown by police officers who escaped punishment.  These health professionals are sending a message that racial profiling has an impact on the health of individuals, families, and communities. Thank you to every one of you who particpated.

4: The success of Obamacare's second enrollment period.  By December 23, there were over 6 million people signed up for health insurance through HealthCare.gov, free of the glitches that plagued it in October 2013.  Thanks to the diligence of enrollment navigators and other public health professionals, over 9 million of our fellow Americans will be signed up for health insurance by the time enrollment closes in February.

3: Universal background checks on gun sales in Washington state. This past November, Washington voters passed a ballot initiative for universal background checks on gun sales, a major step in the right direction for stopping the public health problem of gun violence. Congratulations to voters for standing up to the NRA and gun industry lobbyists.  This kind of progress is sprouting in other parts of the country, and I thank advocates and voters for that.

2: Time Magazine's Persons of the Year are the Ebola fighters. I'm calling that an accomplishment because these nurses, doctors, and public health workers have done an incredible job of controlling this outbreak, and they deserve our gratitude and respect. Sadly, they have not always received it. Nurse Kaci Hickox was subject to an unnecessary state-policed quarantine, and there has been a lot of public derision of many public health workers, a lot of them volunteers, who have done tough, dangerous work of taking care of our brothers and sisters in West Africa. So thank you to Time Magazine for reversing this cultural trend that was moving towards stigma, and many, many thanks to the Ebola fighters.

1: Senate confirms Dr. Vivek Murthy as Surgeon General. Considering the range of the health challenges this country has been facing, we are very fortunate to now have a Surgeon General with the unique intelligence and ingenuity of Dr. Murthy. His confirmation is also a huge win for advocates of gun violence prevention and those of us who approach gun violence as a public health issue. Dr. Murthy's confirmation was stalled for over a year because he had tweeted that guns are a public health concern. The NRA lobbyists and gun industry lobbyists used a lot of melodrama and fear-mongering tactics, including scoring the Surgeon General vote and downgrading Senators voting in favor of Dr. Murthy.

On December 15, those tactics failed. Dr. Vivek Murthy is now our Surgeon General. To be clear, he emphasized during his confirmation hearing this past spring that he would not use the office to advocate for gun safety. Instead, he intends to focus on educating the public about obesity, smoking, and vaccines. Nevertheless as a health justice advocate, I am still grinning over the NRA lobbyists' loss. The Senate's confirmation of the Surgeon General is a moment of triumph, proving what we as advocates can accomplish.

In celebrating these various health justice accomplishments for 2014, we are witnessing the victories of everyday people over the powers of industry money, extremist ideology, and ugly political tactics. There is a long struggle ahead for health justice. There are many challenging fronts: gun violence, paid sick leave, racial profiling, hunger, and so on. Health justice may be temporarily delayed, but it will not be defeated. Not if We the People give a damn. We must do better, we can do better, and this list of health accomplishments proves it.