New Obama Appointee Understands Connections Between Health and Economy

Todd Heywood

By appointing policy leaders like Melody Barnes, President-Elect Obama appears to have pulled together an economic team that understands the connections between health and the economy.

President-elect
Barack Obama yesterday announced his new economic team, which includes
Melody Barnes, a former Senior Domestic Policy Adviser to Obama during
his bid for the presidency.   Although she is well-known within the
progressive community, the public is not as familiar with Barnes or her
position on key domestic issues. Barnes is a former Executive Policy Director at the Center
for American Progress; she’s also served as chief counsel to Senator Edward Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

During the presidential campaign, I had an opportunity
to have a one-on-one with Barnes during which she talked at length
about the importance of addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a key to
addressing urban renewal programs.

Barnes said:

"Barack sees an urban agenda that tries to help people
with [the] disease have access to health care," Barnes said. "He
recognizes a larger hole in that strong families make up strong
communities, and if you are sick and struggling, you are not going to
have a strong family."

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Barnes said Obama has also been vocal about HIV testing and about
challenging the African-American community to address the HIV epidemic.

"This is a matter of life and death," Barnes said.

In a powerful piece published in 2007 on the Washington Post, the day before President Bush’s State of the Union speech, Barnes also said:

Domestically, no need is more urgent than fixing our
broken health care system. Today, nearly 47 million Americans have no
health insurance. And those lucky enough to be insured are seeing the
cost of their premiums soar. At the same time, the uninsured cannot
afford screening for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or even get a flu
shot – and our health care system as a whole places far more emphasis
on treatment than it does on preventing disease in the first place. As
a nation, we dedicate only three percent of our health dollars to
health promotion, but over 20 percent of our health care dollars to
care in the last year of life. We must guarantee affordable coverage
for all Americans. At the same time, we must also overhaul our health
care system so that we make wellness and disease prevention a national
priority. The Wellness Trust will create incentives for health care
providers, employers, schools and individuals to focus on prevention,
and preventative care will be available to people outside of a doctor’s
office. Preventive services will be covered whether they are delivered
in pharmacies, supermarkets, on the job, at senior centers, or
elsewhere in the community.

By appointing policy leaders like Barnes who see the connections
between health and the economy, Obama appears to have pulled together
an economic team that reflects many of the goals he set out during his
campaign.

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