Music to our ears this week was the memo released by the White House on the importance of using data and evidence to inform policy decisions. “It is the policy of my Administration to make evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data. Scientific and technological information, data, and evidence are central to the development and iterative improvement of sound policies, and to the delivery of equitable programs, across every area of government.” The memo called for making federal data widely available so researchers can use it to evaluate the effectiveness of policies, and it cites the use of randomized control trials as a potential approach to agencies’ evidence-building plans. As we’ve said in this space before, too many social programs are funded without rigorous evidence that they actually improve people’s lives, and too many proven-effective programs don’t get the funding support they deserve. What follows this memo should be an investment in rigorous evaluations to identify and scale what works — along with incentives and support for states and localities to put them into use.
One more thing: Merriam-Webster just added 520 new words to the dictionary (including decarceration!) and I’d like to make the case for No. 521: evidence-based. Yes, it’s a compound adjective, but there is plenty of precedence.
A 'Deep Dive' on Democracy
Is American democracy still working? That's the question explored in our first “Deep Dive with Laura Arnold” podcast episode of 2021: “Democracy in Crisis.” Our Co-Founder and Co-ChairLaura Arnold sits down with leading democracy reformer Katherine Gehl to examine the dysfunction in our democracy and identify solutions.
What's Happening: Systemic failures in the nation’s electoral and legislative systems have led to extreme polarization and partisan rancor. Only 17 percent of Americans say they trust the government in Washington to do what is right — an all-time low, according to the Pew Research Center. In a 2019 Bright Line survey, 747 political scientists collectively gave the U.S. a one-in-six chance of democratic breakdown in the next four years. The experts were nearly unanimous in their assessment that American democracy had declined over the last decade.
Go Deep: Arnold and Gehl provide expert insights into a number of ways we can repair democracy — changes that, despite their high return on investment, still aren’t receiving the attention they need to gain traction. These fixes include changing the process of legislative rulemaking and establishing ranked choice voting and open primaries, solutions that would make our governments more accountable, representative, and transparent.
Manatt Health, which has released a new playbook for state leaders on how to effectively implement a new model for contraceptive access — one where pharmacists prescribe and dispense contraceptives.
Why It Matters: More than 19 million people in the U.S. lack meaningful access to birth control in their communities. The problem is most acute among low-income women, women of color, and individuals from other historically marginalized communities, who face greater difficulties accessing reproductive health care writ large, and contraception in particular.
Bottom Line: The pharmacy counter may be a preferred access point for some consumers and help address access disparities, particularly for Black women and people living in rural communities, as both of these populations are likely to live closer to a pharmacy than a physician’s office. And the experiences of states that have passed legislation allowing pharmacist prescribing offer case studies on what thoughtful design and implementation of reproductive policy can mean for the health and wellbeing of millions of people.
The National Conference of State Legislatures, which in partnership with Arnold Ventures has released a new database of police reform bills. This public collection of information about police reform legislation is unprecedented, but the effort matches the immediacy of the moment.
What’s Happening: Across 36 states and Washington, D.C., more than 700 reform bills were introduced from May 25, 2020 through the end of the year and nearly 100 were enacted. The database can serve as a roadmap for police reform advocates, showing what sort of bills are being proposed and where those bills are becoming laws.
Why It Matters: “This database documents where states are making progress and where efforts are being thwarted,” says AV’s Walter Katz, vice president of criminal justice. “Lawmakers and other reform advocates can look to this for examples of model legislation to pursue in their own states.”
Related: The Council on Criminal Justice Task Force on Policing shares new recommendations that will help departments uphold life and dignity by reducing officer use of force and increasing transparency.
Related: Berkeley City Council is moving forward with a proposal by its youngest member to shift traffic and parking enforcement away from police officers and into the hands of unarmed city workers. “Driving while Black shouldn’t be a crime,” says 24-year-old Rigel Robinson.
A Q&A With...
Assistant Professor Jamein Cunningham of the University of Memphis, on how police representation and unions intersect with public demands for reform and accountability. The movement for police reform has often found its efforts unexpectedly blocked by legal barriers that protect officers from being held accountable for their actions. “These protections, as long as they exist in the manner that they do,” Cunningham says, “will always thwart or limit the ability for the community and the police to get on the same terms, as it relates to providing public safety.”
By Rhiannon Meyers Collette, Communications Manager
How does one of the healthiest places in the United States end up paying some of the highest prices for health care? That's the unsettling question that ignited what has become a coordinated and concerted effort in Colorado to tackle unaffordable health care costs.
What’s Happening: When health care advocates in Summit County, Colo., realized that they were paying some of the highest insurance premiums in the country — despite the county's recognition as having one of the longest life expectancies in the nation — they huddled together to come up with a plan, and the Peak Health Alliance was born. In its inaugural year, the purchasing collaborative was able to drive down Summit County health insurance premiums by 20 percent, and they lowered the 2021 rates as well.
Bottom Line: This collaborative purchasing model not only gives communities local control over their costs, it may also offer a playbook for creating a more affordable health care system for everyone. It certainly has Colorado abuzz. Peak has spread to six new counties this year and has plans to expand even further in 2022. AV’s Alex Spratt, manager of commercial sector prices, sat down with the Alliance's recently departed CEO Tamara Hogue to learn more about their success.
Related: A Supreme Court ruling upholding Arkansas's ability to regulate industry middlemen called pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, opens the door for states to use their power and authority to lower health care prices more generally.
Here Are 5 Ways...
… to put criminal justice on the right course in 2021. The criminal justice system sits at the intersection of overlapping crises of accountable government, racial justice, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Amid this strife, the American people went to the ballot box in November and approved a surprisingly broad menu of criminal justice reforms. People are hungry for change. The Biden administration needs to continue this movement by working to root out systemic racism, take into account a broad sense of community wellbeing, involve impacted communities in the decision-making process, prioritize the safety and human dignity of everyone in the criminal justice system, and build transparency, oversight, accountability, and data-driven policy into every level of the criminal justice system. Read the story >
Related: Goodbye and good riddance to federal for-profit prisons. Read our statement on President Biden’s executive order.
What We're Reading
This NPR investigation that uncovers troubling patterns in the fatal police shootings of unarmed Black people and “the myriad ways that law enforcement agencies fail to hold officers accountable and allow them to be in a position to shoot again.”
Top takeaways from a report by the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice, which provides a first-of-its-kind look at how the pandemic has devastated the nation’s criminal justice system and contributed to the public health crisis nationwide.
This compelling obituary on the trusted science journalist Sharon Begley. “Over the course of her 43-year-career, at Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and STAT, from the glory days of print magazines to the Twitter-crazed news cycles of 2020, she won more awards and accolades than could fit in an obituary. The accomplishments she was prouder of were making complex ideas accessible to anyone — and beautiful — through her articles and books, and in doing so, training and inspiring generations of science journalists. She taught by example, showing that you could be tough-minded while being kind, that you could be literary without any big-personality bull.” Begley died of complications of lung cancer on Jan. 16, just five days after completing her final article for STAT. She was a never-smoker.
Listen: STAT journalists dedicate an episode of “The Readout LOUD” to remembering the life and work of their revered and beloved colleague.
The Atlantic on how election reforms such as ranked-choice voting and nonpartisan primaries are upending national politics.
The Texas Observer on the question of whether the state Legislature will finally end arrests for fine-only offenses. “Such arrests perpetuate a system of mass incarceration while costing those involved hefty booking fees, lost work, even their lives, in the case of [Sandra] Bland.”
Low-interest rates are negatively impacting people who are relying on their own savings to fund their retirements, Reason Foundation writes.
We’re excited to see insights and research from NYU’s new Tax Law Center, which will provide a public interest voice to some of our most complicated tax law issues.
This ProPublica investigation on how the CARES Act left behind some of America’s most vulnerable hospitals, especially small ones in rural areas already at risk of closure.
Netflix’s “Cops and Robbers,” an animated short film (just 8 minutes) about racial injustice that is already generating Oscar buzz. Its inspiration is a spoken-word piece by Timothy Ware-Hill, written in response to Ahmaud Arbery’s murder. The fast-paced film finds Ware-Hill jogging down a quiet neighborhood street before the screen morphs into a textured mosaic of visual styles and sound. That title is a play on words, a reference to the innocence of a child's game giving way to a horrific reality with life or death consequences. It’s a poem and a plea — and a powerful message on the trauma of living in a world where your safety is always in question.
Also Watching: The Shkreli Awards, a top-ten list of the worst examples of profiteering and dysfunction in U.S. health care from the Incidental Economist.
ICYMI: Watch the webinar from our Evidence-Based Policy team that provides potential grantees with clear advice on applying to the team’s RCT Opportunity request for proposals, with a goal of diversifying the applicant and grantee pool.
What We're Listening To
This Pegasus podcast discussion with AV Vice President Kevin Madden on the aftermath of a fraught presidential transition, where we go from here, and how we can restore intellectual honesty to our debates and trust to our political system.
This All Things Considered segment from NPR on the move by Illinois to become the first state to eliminate all cash bail payments for jail release before trial. It provides a good overview of bail reform movements across the country.
Some Final Inspiration
Biden joked that Janet Yellen needed her own “Hamilton” musical. So Dessa, a contributor to “The Hamilton Mixtape,” delivered just that.
Our Complex Care team isfunding research into how to improve the systems that deliver care to a population of more than 12 million people who are dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. They are seeking to fund researchers who are guided by the following principles: policy relevance, rigor and independence, and alignment with our strategy. Learn more here.
Stephanie DiCapua Getman develops and executes Arnold Ventures' digital communications strategy with a focus on multimedia storytelling and audience engagement and oversees daily editorial operations and design.
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