About the talk:

Both the U.S. and China have confronted pressure in recent decades to deliver health security to its respective populations. Health policy has never been far from the political spotlight in either country. This program brings together two scholars who have recently taken stock of the approaches and challenges in each country. The discussion will highlight lessons for the future amid the pandemic and other looming challenges for the health systems, and by extension, the political leaders, in each country.

Despite the achievement of some measure of health reform under Barack Obama in 2010, the U.S. has continued to resist recognition of a right to health. Under the glare of the coronavirus pandemic, both the urgency of and the prospects for such recognition seem ever more at odds.  Christina Ho’s book Normalizing an American Right to Health argues against the conventional wisdom that a U.S. right to health is out of reach. It shows that the necessary change is not extraordinary but familiar and that the law has already laid considerable groundwork in ordinary statutes and case law. This descriptive foundation, revealed through the application of well-accepted theories of rights, has simply yet to be either acknowledged as, or relied upon, for rights-building. The book then moves from the descriptive task of showing where a right to health already exists in our legal corpus to the prescriptive goal of showing how we could feasibly and meaningfully expand the right through ordinary policies that are widely used in other domains, including impact assessments and state-sponsored reinsurance.

Why would an authoritarian country expand social welfare provision in the absence of democratization? Yet China, the world's largest and most powerful authoritarian state, has expanded its social health insurance system at an unprecedented rate, increasing enrollment from 20 percent of its population in 2000 to 95 percent in 2012. Significantly, people who were uninsured, such as peasants and the urban poor, are now covered, but their insurance is less comprehensive than that of China's elite. With the wellbeing of 1.4 billion people and the stability of the regime at stake, social health insurance is now a major political issue for Chinese leadership and ordinary citizens. Xian Huang’s book Social Protection under Authoritarianism: Health Politics and Policy in China analyzes the transformation of China's social health insurance in the first decade of the 2000s, addressing its expansion and how it is distributed. Providing an in-depth look into China's health insurance system, this book sheds light not only on Chinese politics, but also on how social benefits function in an authoritarian yet decentralized multilevel governance setting.

About the speakers: 

Christina S. Ho is a professor of law at Rutgers University where she teaches health law, administrative law, and South African Constitutional Law. Before teaching, she worked as a health policy staffer on the White House Domestic Policy Council, in Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate Office, and for John F. Tierney in the U.S. House of Representatives. She also served as Country Director for the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative China Program, and later worked at the O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University Law Center, where she founded the China Health Law Initiative. Christina received her law and public policy degrees from Harvard Law School and Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government respectively.

Xian Huang is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Rutgers University. Her research has focused on the politics of social welfare, mobility, and inequality in China. She received a Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University. She is the author of the book: Social Protection under Authoritarianism: Health Politics and Policy in China (Oxford University Press, 2020). Her research has appeared in peer-reviewed journals such as Democratization, Governance, Political Studies, Social Science Research, Studies in Comparative International Development, and The China Quarterly, among others. She is currently working on a book project about the politics of social risk and redistribution in Xi’s China.

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