APHA Executive Director Georges C. Benjamin (left) and HHS Acting Assistant Secretary for Health Karen DeSalvo spoke Saturday at the 2016 Public Health Law Conference. Photo by Daniel Greenberg/APHA

APHA Executive Director Georges C. Benjamin (left) and HHS Acting Assistant Secretary for Health Karen DeSalvo spoke Saturday at the 2016 Public Health Law Conference. Photo by Daniel Greenberg/APHA

Health equity is one of APHA’s guiding priorities, but public health isn’t the only profession working to create a nation where everyone gets a fair chance to lead a healthy life.

Lawyers are on the front lines, too.

On Saturday, APHA Executive Director Georges C. Benjamin, MD, joined a decorated panel at the Public Health Law Conference, organized by the Network for Public Health Law, to discuss the intersection of health equity and a legal system that can help to nurture it. The panel included U.S. Department of Health Acting Assistant Secretary for Health Karen DeSalvo and Georgetown University Professor Lawrence Gostin.

Notably, DeSalvo discussed how the Affordable Care Act gives state governments unprecedented — though often underutilized — latitude to act on reducing health disparities, such as with Medicaid expansion.

“One of the recurring themes we’ve noticed is how much the legal system comes into play in health — beyond health care,” DeSalvo said.

The “political environment of health care” — as dubbed by moderator Todd Zwillich, a Washington public radio correspondent — was a prominent talking point during the discussion. Panelists discussed strategies to create health equity in America despite often-divided national opinions on racial and gender disparities.

“The first thing we do is we sit down with the different populations at the community level and discuss their health needs — by the way, we know that blue-collar communities are impacted by health disparities, too — we need to do a better job in demonstrating to them that we care about their health and show how some of the things that they are supporting are against their own best interests,” Benjamin said. “For example there’s a lot of data coming out about how the Medicaid expansion states are doing better than the non-Medicaid expansion states in terms of health outcomes. That data can be a powerful tool to help people better understand their health needs as well as influence policy.”