Six Slides to Help State Legislators Improve Health

State legislators across the country have an important role to play in improving health by facilitating cross-sector collaboration in their states and aligning government policies to support health.

To help with this work, the National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP) has developed six slides that state legislators can use and adapt to make the case for improving the root causes – also known as the social determinants of health – in their states.

Individuals’ life conditions — such as the quality of their neighborhoods, education, and income — make up 80 percent of the factors affecting their health, yet most government health care spending goes primarily to clinical care (Slide 2).

Legislators, as stewards of public resources with an important role to play in approving state budgets, can look for smart investments that reduce health care costs, avoid lost productivity, and make their states’ populations healthier (Slides 3 and 4).

This is a crucial moment, during which many state legislatures are in the process of approving state budgets and introducing bills to advance their state’s priorities. These bills and the final budget versions that legislators will soon pass will have important implications for health and prevention across state government agencies. Here are strategies that legislators can use to effectively address these social determinants of health.

Maximize Resources

State governments invest in a range of policies that promote health, such as safe and affordable housingearly childhood education, and Tobacco 21 policies. Evidence shows that these upstream, cost-effective prevention policies help people become and stay healthy, instead of purchasing costly medical care after people become sick. However, these upstream programs can be challenging to coordinate across state agencies or disciplines. State legislatures, however, can work to align policies and investments to ensure that all agencies work collaboratively to achieve their state’s health and budget priorities [Slide 5].

Make the Case for Consistent Policy

Officials working in various state agencies and departments carry out important health-related policies and programs. This work is not the sole jurisdiction of a single legislative committee or state health department. For example:

  • Housing departments can help advance health by ensuring that people are stably housed;
  • Education departments can promote early learning and healthy child development; and
  • Departments of environmental protection can work to safeguard the environmental conditions in which people live so they can be healthy.

Legislatures can direct funding and shape a cohesive, government-wide strategy to improve health that engages all state agencies (Slide 6). NASHP will continue to develop tools and resources to support administrations and lawmakers interested in implementing and expanding upstream prevention policies to promote health and control costs.

Produced in partnership with the de Beaumont Foundation.