Last Friday, the UCSB History Department hosted a symposium on healthcare reform as a part of the “Great Society at Fifty: Democracy in America, 1964/2014” series.

Inspired by a commencement address given by Lyndon B. Johnson 60 years ago, “The Great Society at Fifty” series explores enduring conflicts in civil rights and social reform through lectures, courses and other educational offerings. Events are hosted through the collaboration of various campus departments, and will continue to be held through the end of the 2013-2014 academic year.

Professor Paul Starr, the former senior advisor of healthcare policy to President Bill Clinton, opened the symposium with his talk, “America’s Peculiar Struggle over Health Care, Then and Now.” Afterwards, a panel of local healthcare leaders discussed the current state of healthcare in the United States.

Caitlin Rathe, a Ph.D. student in the History Department and graduate student assistant to the “Great Society at Fifty” series, said the talk threaded together discussion on various healthcare reforms through the years.

“Basically, we’re trying to connect the past and the present because a lot of these Great Society programs that were implemented in the 60’s still exist in some form, but a lot of them are under attack now,” Rathe said. “We’re trying to build dialogue around them using the 50th anniversary to bring attention to them.”

According to Rathe, participants used the symposium to understand how change occurred in healthcare policy.

“There were these giant healthcare reforms in the 60’s when [President Lyndon B.] Johnson signed Medicare and Medicaid into law,” Rathe said. “Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, is the biggest change to those policies since then, so just, ‘how does healthcare reform happen in the U.S.?’ was what we were trying to figure out today.”

Mario Chavez, a local healthcare leader and community relations manager for St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, sat on the panel and said that the most progress to be made in improving healthcare involves public policy.

“Every single decision that is going to come moving forward in relation to healthcare is tied the county supervisor, governor, assembly member, you name it,” Chavez said. “We’re trying to make people aware that you have to engage in the civic process in order to impact and improve accessibility.”

According to Chavez, media outlets poorly handled coverage of the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which came to be publicized as “Obamacare,” by sensationalizing the consequences and nature of the law. In Los Angeles County, the local Univision television station supported Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act, but the national Univision television station “slammed it,” Chavez said.

According to Chavez, the overwhelming response to the Affordable Health Care enrollment offer indicates a pressing need for healthcare reform.

“The state of California had a goal of 835,000 enrollments. We got 1.4 million. That’s 570,000 people more than they anticipated. That’s clearly a cry for help. That’s half a million people saying ‘I’ll sign up for health care,’” Chavez said.

Susan Klein-Rothschild, the Deputy Director of the Santa Barbara County Health Department’s Community Health Division, said that it is crucial for the public to understand the Affordable Care Act.

“It’s a lot more helping people understand that it’s not just filling out forms and checking boxes,” Klein-Rothschild said. “What does this mean and why is it important?”

The “Great Society at Fifty” series continues on Friday at 4 p.m. with a talk by Professor William P. Jones on labor in the civil rights movement.