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Everything is health: Tracking Legislation in the Illinois General Assembly

Wesley Epplin and Tiffany Ford with Christy Spees
May 5, 2017
The World Health Organization defines health as: “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

“Everything is health” is a common public health adage that supports this broad view of health by stating that all aspects and experiences of our lives impact the health of individuals, communities, and populations.  All public policies impact health in some way, since they directly relate to how money, power, and resources are distributed—or concentrated—in society.  Applying such a broad view when deciding which legislation to track can be daunting for an organization such as Health & Medicine where our Board and Staff consider the relationship any law may have to people’s health.  

This year, the Illinois State Senate has 2,187 bills under consideration.  Not to be outdone, our State House has 4,034.  You can check them out here

One can’t focus on everything, so how do we narrow down from 6,000+ bills to a manageable list?  Health & Medicine staff use a combination of our own research on bills that pertain to health (via a curated set of search terms), considering lists and individual bills sent to us by different partner organizations, and those shared via news stories and social media. 

In order to advance health equity, people need access to high quality, equitable education, well-paid and safe jobs, affordable housing, and freedom from discrimination and violence, among other important issues.  As such, our list is broader than most that focus solely on mental health, healthcare access, or education, as examples.

What we hope this curated list of legislation will do is provide guidance for those who care about health equity and think through the lens of the structural determinants of health inequities—the policies and systems that lead to social stratification along the lines of education, income, and housing access—and thus causes inequities in health. To advance health equity, we need equitable policies that do not merely improve upon the social determinants of health; they must also ensure that these determinants are equitably distributed throughout the population.  (The social determinants of health framework is briefly explained in this discussion paper.)

Our policy work is also geared toward helping dispel the complexity of policymaking for the general public.  The necessity of engaging all people—including those who don’t get paid to think about policy and health for a living—in the policymaking process is essential to advancing equitable policy that serves human needs. 

At times, Health & Medicine sends action alerts on specific bills and future iterations of our tracking will provide links to submit witness slips for legislation being heard before committees to help people engage on a broader array of legislation.  For now, here is our current list of legislation.  We welcome notes about other bills that readers think are essential to health equity and should be monitored.  If you have suggestions, please send them to info@hmprg.org with the subject line “Legislation Tracking.”