Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is the Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration and Public Health Sciences at the University of Chicago and a nonresident Fellow of the Century Foundation.

Recent Articles


By Harold Pollack Tuesday's New York Times includes a nice story “The epidemic that wasn’t” recounting the crack baby scare of two decades ago. Quoting distinguished experts such as Brown University’s Barry Lester and Boston University’s Deborah Frank, Times reporter Susan Okie recounts that sorry history, in which real medical uncertainty, media sensationalism, and the race-culture politics of the drug war combined to produce a harmful panic. If you want to get this story, Laura Gomez’s Misconceiving Mothers remains an essential source. There are some interesting byways, such as the pervasive reluctance of juries to convict women prosecuted for their prenatal drug use.


By Harold Pollack I’m charged this week to tackle public health. I’m cheating a bit to venture into other health reform issues. Dean Baker over at TPMcafe suggested that the feds abolish the current 2-year waiting period for disabled people to receive Medicare. This is a pet issue of mine. I want to second him on this point. Because I am a family caregiver, I ended up reaching out to disability advocates as a volunteer supporter for the Obama campaign. I wrote various articles, often for HuffPo —Ezra forgive me, again—on the importance of health reform to children and adults living with serious illness or injury, and to their families. Every time I wrote such a piece, my comment thread would fill up with heartrending stories of people facing challenging medical conditions who were deemed totally disabled, and who were often running up huge bills waiting for their Medicare eligibility. Many faced bewildering problems with Medicaid or with private insurers. Many, arguably the lucky ones...


by Harold Pollack The current stimulus package includes some funds for family planning services provided to Medicaid recipients. Republicans are predictably upset, and the Obama administration may decide to pull this provision. Lindsey Beyerstein has a nice little article over at the Washington Independent recounting the dispute. Family planning is no pork barrel item. By any reasonable public health measure, these services are more important and cost-effective than many other health expenditures nobody is fighting about. Contraception is central to maternal and child health. Proper birth spacing and preconceptional planning are especially key for low-income Medicaid recipients. Preventing unintended pregnancies seems like a pretty good thing, too. One more thing: Contraception is a nontrivial expense for many women. Better Medicaid coverage for these services provides a timely implicit tax cut for needy women. I appreciate the delicacy of the Administration's political calculations...


by Harold Pollack And he drank of the wine, and was drunken, and he was uncovered within his tent. Ham saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren who were without. And Shem and Japeth took a garment, and laid it out upon both their shoulders, and went backward, covered the nakedness of their father, and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness. Noah was not the first person to go astray due to his alcohol use. He certainly wasn't the last. For millennia, problem drinking had harmed many drinkers, their families, and the wider community. For sure, tobacco kills more people, but by any other measure, alcohol poses far-and-away America’s most serious drug problem. A University of Washington team estimated that harmful drinking caused almost 64,000 deaths in the year 2000....


by Harold Pollack If you are serious about Illinois public policy, progressillinois is an essential source. Hat's-off to Josh Kalven for today's story on overcrowding at Cook County Jail. While we are at it, hat's-off to Alderwoman Toni Preckwinkle for raising this issue on television this morning. It's heartening that local elected politicians are willing to tackle this subject, and that they are willing to step up on behalf of a despised group of citizens who need help. Prisons and jails should be great assets to American public health. After all, we have a uniquely high-risk population literally under lock-and-key, in a setting where we might address a wide variety of public health concerns ranging from infectious disease transmission to psychiatric disorders and substance abuse. Instead, a toxic combination of overcrowding, serious management challenges, and lack of resources conspires to make bad public health problems even worse. President Obama would be wise to place...