Improve Public Health

Expanding Access to Dental Care

State Sen. Ray Cleary, a South Carolina Republican, has proposed S.286 to create a free dental screening program for schoolchildren in at least 3 of the state's poorest counties - where children are most likely to go without regular dental care. Sen. Cleary, a dentist himself, wants to combat the adverse effects that poor dental health has on a child's education, including the inability to focus while in school because of pain and missed school days. According to the Pew Center on the States, tooth decay is the most common childhood disease, affecting 60% of all children and causing kids across the country to miss 51 million hours of school time each year.

Health Care for All: Policy Options for 2009

Download a copy of the report in PDF format here.  View the HTML version of the report here.

California is First State to Ban Artery-Clogging Trans Fats

With Governor Schwarzenegger's approval of AB 97, California became the first state to ban the use of trans fats in food preparation at restaurants and bakeries, achieving a key public health goal.  Trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oils, are used in numerous prepared and packaged foods like French fries, margarines, crackers, and doughnuts.  Trans fats significantly increase consumers' risk of heart disease by spiking so-called bad cholesterol and decreasing good cholesterol.  Several cities, including New York City, preceded California with their own bans, but the California action will increase the likelihood that other states will follow suit.  Under the California law, restaurants must discontinue their use of trans fats by 2010 and bakeries must comply by 2011; fines will range from $25 to $1,000. Packaged foods are exempt.


Health care costs can be dramatically lowered if the public is protected from deadly and costly public health dangers.  Most of these require little or no public funds, have a positive impact on local economies, and have been put in place in numerous cities and states around the country.  This section discusses model policies and provides resources for banning smoking in public places, banning toxic chemicals for consumer products, listing calories on restaurant menus, and banning trans-fats from food production. 

Health-Care-for-All On the Installment Plan

Incremental steps to improve the health care system can lay the foundation for comprehensive reform that provides health care for all. Comprehensive reforms enacted in Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine and San Francisco were, in large part, the result of pragmatic incremental steps those states had already taken. For example, a Families USA report discusses the many reforms Massachusetts put in place over the years that led to its comprehensive 2006 reform. Not every state is as far along in moving comprehensive health care reform, but each state does have numerous options for increasing access to coverage, reducing the growth of health care costs, and improving the quality of care.