On January 26, the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Center launched RightsWatch, a new series which focuses on human rights in the age of Trump.  The series aims to engage scholars and activists in meaningful conversations on issues like climate change, immigration and healthcare. There are local, national and global consequences for the political decisions being made by the new administration, and many people are feeling uncertain about the future of their rights and will happen over the next four years. The DHRC@FHI hopes that this series creates a space to learn more about what’s going on and discuss what we can do about it.

The first panel focused on health care in North Carolina and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and included Dr. Dennis Clements, professor in the Departments of Pediatrics, Community and Family Medicine at Duke University Medical Center; Michelle J. Lyn, Chief of the Division of Community Health at Duke, and Don Taylor, professor of Public Policy at Duke University.

Participants discussed a variety of issues including their hopes about the future of health care reform. One focus of the discussion that I found most compelling was Professor Lyn’s response to a question about health care specifically in Durham and its connections to gentrification.  Lyn acknowledged that the Durham community is unlike many others across the country.  She stated that while “Durham has incredible resources…Durham also has extraordinary pockets of poverty.”  In a community with such a wide variety of socioeconomic backgrounds and access to resources, it is necessary to think deeper about how accessible health care is and who truly benefits the most.  As Lyn stated, with such vast differences in access to care within the Durham area, it is imperative to talk about health both in an individual and community context.  Along this same point, Dr. Clements stated that “insurance only works if all people are in,” emphasizing the importance of providing coverage for as many people as possible.   Lyn shared this same goal of providing affordable, quality health care for as many people as possible while stressing the importance of knowing the backgrounds and needs of the communities receiving care.

This point also ties into Professor Don Taylor’s claim that at times, there can even be too much care.  He noted an example of his grandmother, a healthy woman for her entire life but who recently went through the costly procedure of receiving a pacemaker.   Although it did stabilize her heart for a short time, the long-term consequences were far more damaging to her health.  The lesson he shared with us from this personal experience was that, when making decisions regarding health care, we must focus on getting value for what we spend.  In retrospect, a lot of care seems like it isn’t worth it.  Therefore, in order to get the best value out of health care something must be done prospectively.  There is no easy fix to this problem and finding the best way to ensure value in health care will surely be a challenge throughout the years to come. 

Throughout the upcoming challenges, Don Taylor advised the audience to read works from or practice having discussions with people who hold opposing views.  This practice applies to issues beyond just those relating to health care and is an effective way to strengthen one’s own beliefs and learn to be persuasive.

Though their backgrounds and professions differed, all three panelists shared a similar focus on providing quality health care to as many individuals as possible.  Ultimately, the panelists left us with the message to stay motivated and focused towards a clear goal and continue actively engaging with communities, despite the uncertainty that comes with any major political change. 

Please join us for the next RightsWatch panel on immigration on February 13th at 12:00 pm in the Ahmadieh Family Lecture Hall, Bay 4, Smith Warehouse.

By Kyra Josephson, Duke class of 2019