Planting Seeds for National Wellbeing with Senator Tom Harkin


Having a healthy community relies on so much more than the healthcare industry according to former Senator Tom Harkin. The ideal system is one in which entities that control commerce, education, transportation and defense all work together to promote wellness and prevent illness.

“Health is not just in the hospital and doctors offices; it’s in your workplace, school, family, community and even in your church.” -Harkin

As a man from a small farm in Iowa, Harkin grew up understanding that nutrition and exercise play a role in a person’s wellbeing. Serving in Congress from 1975 to 1985, then in the Senate, Harkin supported the notion that Americans had a greater chance at flourishing in a country with a better healthcare system and set out to help build that country.

Preventative Care

As one of the delegators of the Affordable Care Act, Harkin looked at the American health system as a complex institution that needed improvement. This is due, in part, to what Harkin calls “short-sightedness,” or a misconception that health care is about treating patients rather than preventing illness in the first place.

“We’re talking about keeping people healthy, keeping them well, in the first place.” –Sen. Harkin

When trying to put his vision into action, Congress members who, despite the evidence, could not see the benefits to funding preventative healthcare often stonewalled Harkin. In addition, lobbyists who represented pharmaceuticals companies, hospitals, and even medical schools halted his plans.

Our host Wayne B. Jonas, MD with Sen. Tom Harkin

Our host Wayne B. Jonas, MD with guest former Sen. Tom Harkin

Policy and Progress

Realizing that players in the healthcare industry had “their own agendas,” Sen. Harkin took his own agenda one step further by forming the National Prevention Council. This council is comprised of about 16 organizations from various industries that recognize that preventative healthcare will benefit the entire country.

The National Prevention Council monitors the Prevention Fund, and therefore has the power to influence that future of healthcare. Senator Harkin counts on this power, as he believes that the key to human flourishing is self-care and self-management that starts in the home and is also practiced in schools and in the community.

On Human Flourishing is the official bi-weekly podcast of Samueli Institute, hosted by Wayne B. Jonas, MD. Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes.