Sen. Tom Harkin Visits Cuba, Is Pretty Impressed With Its Public Health System

The Iowa Democrat drove for 186 miles over three days to examine the country’s health care situation.

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) speaks during a news conference about preserving Medicaid funding during the 'fiscal cliff' negotiations at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill December 11, 2012.
National Journal
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Elahe Izad
Jan. 29, 2014, 11:50 a.m.

It makes sense that as chair of the Sen­ate Health, Edu­ca­tion, Labor, and Pen­sions Com­mit­tee, Tom Har­kin would want to check out how oth­er coun­tries are do­ing when it comes to pub­lic health. So he spent last week in Cuba, where he saw all sorts of things that made quite the im­pres­sion on him.

Cuba is a “poor coun­try, but they have a lower child mor­tal­ity rate than ours,” the Iowa Demo­crat said to re­port­ers Wed­nes­day. “Their life ex­pect­ancy is now great­er than ours. It’s in­ter­est­ing — their pub­lic health sys­tem is quite re­mark­able.”

Har­kin, who made a 186-mile trek over the course of three days, also cited low in­fec­tion rates in Cuban hos­pit­als and the coun­try’s suc­cess in re­du­cing smoking among cit­izens through pub­lic health cam­paigns.

Har­kin has been to Cuba be­fore. In 2003, he vis­ited and called on Cuba to re­lease 75 dis­sid­ents there. In­deed, oth­er con­gres­sion­al law­makers have traveled to the Carib­bean is­land, which hasn’t had dip­lo­mat­ic re­la­tions with the U.S. since 1959. The most re­cent high-pro­file vis­it came in 2009 when mem­bers of the Con­gres­sion­al Black Caucus went to Cuba and met with Fi­del Castro.

Such vis­its are kosh­er. Har­kin is no Bey­once and Jay Z, who made a Cuba trip last year as a cul­tur­al vis­it but ended up spark­ing all sorts of con­gres­sion­al out­rage be­cause it looked a lot like tour­ism — and that’s pro­hib­ited.

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