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Dora Calott Wang's picture

     Something is missing in health care reform, even if the one year old Affordable Care Act is landmark progress. According to a recent Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, 53 percent of Americans remain confused about the ACA, and 46 percent view the act unfavorably. Health insurance premiums continue to rise, while health care isn’t obviously better. True, the ACA isn’t fully implemented. But with Republicans intent on repealing the act, and judges ruling against its constitutionality, the ACA’s future hangs.
     Could it be that health care reform needs moms?
     Indeed, when it comes to the public’s health, moms have a record of getting things done, when the efforts of policymakers and scientists have fallen short.

Moms and Drunk Driving

     In 1980, about 60 percent of traffic fatalities were caused by drunk drivers. Congress recognized the problem, and allocated $35-million to Alcohol Safety Action Programs. Yet despite daunting statistics and the actions of federal lawmakers, local judges kept letting drunk drivers off the hook. Across the country, people climbed into their cars, inebriated, putting innocent people at risk.
     It took the involvement of mothers to begin making our streets safer from drunk drivers.
     In May 1980, thirteen year old Cari Lightner was crossing a street when a drunk driver hit and killed her. Cari’s mother, Candy Lightner, learned the driver was a repeat DUI offender, recently released on bail for another auto crash. Mystified at the nation’s lack of action toward drunk driving, Lightner founded the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD. Mothers across the country rapidly mobilized behind the cause. Among the mothers who joined Lightner, was Cindy Lamb, whose five month old daughter’s neck was crushed, thanks to a drunk driver. This left the child as the nation’s youngest quadriplegic.
     In the words of MADD, mothers “took on a powerful industry that put profit over safety.” The mothers lent heartfelt stories, and passionate action, thus making an impact that statistics and policy, couldn’t.
     Today, thanks to mothers, drunk driving carries severe punishments and fines. It’s no longer considered socially acceptable to drink and drive, and the term, “designated driver” has become a part of our everyday speech.

Mothers and DES

     Between 1941 and 1971, millions of expectant mothers were prescribed DES (diethylstilbestrol), a drug later linked to cancer, infertility, and deformity for the babies exposed in utero, once they reached puberty years later.
DES had been marketed as a pregnancy enhancer, much like pre-natal vitamins are prescribed today. Pharmaceutical companies continued to advertise the drug, and doctors continued to prescribe it, even after a 1953 study showed that the drug conferred no benefit to pregnancy.  Even after DES was linked to cancer in 1971, the prescribing continued.
     Only when mothers got involved, did the dangers of DES become more widely known. When Pat Cody read about the link between DES and cancer, she took her daughter, Martha, to be examined. Both she and her daughter were grief-stricken when it was discovered that Martha had a pre-cancerous condition, most likely because of the DES Pat took while pregnant.
     Pat Cody founded the organization DES Action, which spread the word about the dangers of DES, and which funded further research into the impact of DES. Lawsuits were also encouraged.
DES is now widely known as a dangerous drug, thanks to the efforts of moms.

Moms and Health Care Reform?

     We all know that the American health care system needs to be reformed. We also agree that although the ACA is a landmark accomplishment, it is far from the complete answer to the nation’s health care crisis.
     One in three precious American health care dollars is wasted on profit and administration. This isn’t just an economic issue, but a moral issue.
     Mothers, as caretakers of the health of families, have always been in a unique position to affect grassroots but widespread change, when it comes to health matters. Indeed, mothers have a record of getting results when the efforts of prominent others, falls short.
     Will our nation’s sick health care system ever be cured without moms leading the way?

Dora Wang, M.D., is the author of “The Kitchen Shrink: A Psychiatrists’ Reflections on Healing in a Changing World” from Riverhead/Penguin Books.

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