"2013, the Year of the Snake... as in Caduceus"

Jan 7, 2013, 9:00 AM, Posted by Carole Pratt

Carole Pratt, DDS, is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health Policy Fellows program, where she worked in the office of Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). Pratt was a practicing dentist in rural southwest Virginia for 32 years. This post is part of the "Health Care in 2013" series.

The Times Square ball has dropped, crisp new calendars have been affixed to office walls, and clean new agenda pages gape at us from computer screens, signaling prudent resolution makers that it is time to get serious about 2013. February 10 will mark another New Year, the beginning of the Chinese New Year festival ushering in the Year of the Snake. Parades will be held, people around the world will celebrate, and for a time at least, inherent fear of reptiles will be set aside.

In a century-long history that is somewhat convoluted, the American medical profession has come to be represented by the winged staff and serpent symbol, the Caduceus. So during 2013, the Year of the Snake, it may be no coincidence that things are looking up for the health care profession and the health of the nation in general. In its 2013 annual ranking, U.S. News & World Report announced the top ten most attractive jobs based on factors such as opportunity for employment, salary, work-life balance, and job security.  Six of the top ten spots were claimed by jobs in health care.

Recent headlines have announced welcome and sometimes surprising health news, with the National Survey on Drug Use and Health annual report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Hailed as evidence that the national strategy addressing the problems of substance abuse is beginning to pay off, declines were seen among young people in non-medical prescription drug use, binge drinking, and tobacco use.

Good news comes, too, in the difficult area of childhood obesity prevention with new data from several sources indicating a leveling off and even a modest decline in rates in certain areas of the country.  As small as these reductions are, they offer encouragement as the first signs of what is hoped to become a downward trajectory.

“Obamacare,” once considered the worst of health care epithets, is now part of the political lexicon, taken up by supporters as the country’s feeling toward difficult-to-understand health reform legislation becomes cautiously more sanguine. People across the country are finding things to like in the imperfect, complex Affordable Care Act (ACA). The middle class couple in Tennessee likes that their son attending college is now eligible to be covered by their health insurance plan until he is 26.  A retired schoolteacher in Indiana likes that she can have a cost-effective preventive medical examination annually with no out-of-pocket cost. Florida parents of a child who was born with a rare genetic disorder like that their insurance company cannot cancel their policy and discontinue treatment for their baby. Fiscally-minded people like the Congressional Budget Office projection that the ACA will lower both Medicare spending and future deficits.

As for a resolution for the New Year, Senator Jay Rockefeller said it best:  “Be positive!  I am optimistic about health care in this country among a tangle of worries. ” And Senator Rockefeller should know, having spent a life in public service spanning more than half a century, much of it in the quest for affordable, accessible, available health care. 

I resolve to be positive about health care in this country and about the possibilities that are being realized through the hard work of doctors and nurses, physical therapists and pharmacists, caregivers at home and teachers in schools, by parents and Girl Scout leaders, and, yes, by the policy specialists and politicians who are slogging their way through the labyrinth of health care options to find those that make good sense for the American people.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.