Population Health Blog

Population Health Blog

Why It Matters

Michigan court case on the ‘right’ to literacy offers insight into the right to health care

By Dennis Archambault
People who believe health care is a right, might want to pay attention to a recent court case that concluded that education isn’t a right (https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2018/06/29/judge-dismisses-lawsuit-against-snyder-over-detroit-kids-literacy/747732002/). There certainly is legal reasoning behind the pros and cons of this argument, but with the conservative bent of the judicial system these days, it’s safe to assume that the definition of “rights” guaranteed by the constitution is fairly narrow and not really open for debate.
What’s interesting in Judge Stephen Murphy’s response is that he acknowledged the deplorable condition of education for students in low income communities like Detroit. “The conditions and outcomes of plaintiffs’ schools, as alleged, are nothing short of devastating. When a child who could be taught to read goes untaught, the child suffers a lasting injury – and so does society.” But that’s not a matter for the courts. “In other words, access to literacy is not a fundamental right,” Judge Murphy wrote. It’s a matter for elected officials, judged in the court of public opinion and eventually in elections.

An affluent society that believes in social equity should provide a basic standard of living that guarantees opportunity for the vulnerable, but it is not bound to do so. Education, health care and disease prevention services, housing, food security, safety, mobility – these are social values that need to advocated for, and once won, defended as public opinion and elected leadership changes. These are social determinants of health and wellness, which judges like Stephen Murphy would say are important to society, but not guaranteed by the constitution.

The takeaway from this decision? The political process matters. As crazy as it seems at times, it is the process through which a democracy thrives, and how society advances, or not.

Dennis Archambault is vice president for Public Affairs, at Authority Health.

Well-financed advocacy groups resist upstream change, frustrating health equity efforts

By Dennis Archambault

Special interests have always financed advocacy efforts. But the recent article, “How the Koch Brothers Are Killing Public Transit Projects around the County” (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/19/climate/koch-brothers-public-transit.html) offers a perspective on how difficult it is to make “upstream” systemic change to influence the social determinants of health.

Publicity about workers spending hours on bus rides to work – or walking in all kinds of weather — have raised awareness as to how difficult it is to get to (and hold) a job in this region. But the sobering reality is that there are oppressive financial forces, such as Americans for Prosperity, that provide financing to oppose progressive, social programs like regional transportation. Americans for Prosperity is the advocacy group funded by the Koch brothers, known for financing countless Republican campaigns. Paid activists, using a sophisticated data service, identify voters inclined to be of a more conservative orientation, then appeal to their interests.

Recently, civic leadership in Nashville supported a $5.4 billion transit plan. Americans for Prosperity made 42,000 phone calls and knocked on 6,000 doors to engineer defeat of the measure. “This is why grassroots works,” said the Tennessee state director for the organization. Their mantra: Public transit goes against what some Americans define as “liberties.” If someone has the freedom to go where they want, do what they want, they’re not going to choose public transit. They’re probably not going to be inclined to support other measures that remove social determinants of health – because the fear of governmental encroachment.

Reportedly, Americans for Prosperity have set up shop in Southeast Michigan to combat this year’s regional transportation campaign.
It’s difficult enough to convince people to spend money for the common good, much less when well-financed opposition is at work. Someone is going to have to come forth to defend these initiatives, and it’s unlikely that the government will, unfortunately.

Dennis Archambault is vice president for Public Affairs at Authority Health.

Governor, Legisalature must face consequences of Medicaid ‘work’ law

By Dennis Archambault

Michigan Senate Bill 897, which at this point is awaiting Gov. Snyder’s signature, will require able-bodied adults to maintain at least a part-time job in order to qualify for Healthy Michigan, the expanded Medicaid program. It actualizes a long-held desire by many legislators to force recipients to “have skin in the game,” or “earn” their social benefit. This is despite the assertion by several people working with safety net populations that most recipients of social programs work – some more than one job. And those who don’t work aren’t likely to work for a variety of reasons, most of which we would characterize as “social determinants of health.”

Recently, the Detroit Free Press published an interesting statistic: 53.4 percent of able-bodied Detroit residents don’t work. (https://www.freep.com/story/money/business/john-gallagher/2018/06/08/workforce-participation-detroit/674401002/) That’s largely due to lack of transportation, education, and skills. A large percentage of the population has re-entered society from a prison term. The Free Press didn’t provide a number that 53.4 percent represents, but in a city of 700,000 people, that represents a lot of people – a lot of people who will allow their health condition to worsen until they need emergency care. That, of course, means a lot of discomfort for people and a cost burden that some emergency health providers may not be able or willing to endure.

It’s unlikely that the unemployed will find work to maintain their health benefit. In a robust employment market like we have today, this population would be working.

The Michigan League for Public Policy has argued that “Having healthcare has helped people get and keep jobs, not the opposite… Aside from the complex bureaucratic red tape Medicaid enrollees will have to face and the increased administrative burden on our state caseworkers, this bill does absolutely nothing to address the barriers an individual faces in getting or keeping a job. In fact, it simply directs people to existing resources—resources in many ways that are significantly lacking. We have seen a recent uptick in conversations regarding transit, for example, with stories about trips in and around the Detroit Metro area taking two plus hours. And those stories don’t even account for bus delays, busses not showing up, or riders needing to get off a route to drop their kids at day care. Of course, many of the enrollees live in areas where transit just doesn’t exist.”

The legislators who remain in office long enough to monitor the effects of this legislation will eventually will face the unintended consequences of their action: increased demand on hospital emergency services for primary care and complications of diseases best managed in a medical home.

Dennis Archambault is vice president for Public Affairs at Authority Health.


‘Avoiding’ hospital emergency facilities will be a difficult lesson for many to learn

By Dennis Archambault
When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act became law, its detractors presented a litany of reasons it would fail. Among them: “You’ll never educate the expanded Medicaid population to stop using emergency services for primary care, chronic disease management, and minor injuries.” It was difficult to argue the point – in the short term. This area of behavior modification, coupled with health literacy, would require several years and a lot of support.

Until recently, hospitals had little incentive to prevent or redirect “avoidable” emergency visits. They were reimbursable and the volume was good for medical residency training programs. Emergency physicians and hospital administrators have long known that a large portion of emergency visits could and should be treated elsewhere. Despite assurances of being seen by a physician in many emergency departments, reasonably educated, insured people have increasingly selected urgent care as an alternative to the emergency visit and their busy primary care provider. But many people still think “E.R.” when they become sick or injured after hours.

Health insurers are being to scrutinize the “avoidable” treatment. As noted in a recent New York Times article (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/19/upshot/anthem-insurer-resists-paying-emergency-room-visits-if-avoidable.html) at least one has floated a trial balloon to get people talking about what is bound to occur in time. Some health systems, like the Detroit Medical Center, have tested the efficiency of primary care practices adjacent to emergency departments, for referral and ongoing care of patients with “avoidable” conditions. There is also a public health track within the Emergency Medicine Department of the Wayne State University School of Medicine to address chronically ill people whose care could be better managed in ambulatory setting.

The best way to avoid an emergency visit is to prevent injuries, manage chronic disease, and use an urgent care center if the primary care provider isn’t available. But when you’ve been using emergency services for much of your life, you’re not likely to change your behavior quickly – especially without support and incentives.

Dennis Archambault is vice president, Public Affairs, at Authority Health.

Fewer new low income housing units: an unintended consequence of the tax law?

By Dennis Archambault
Few are likely to complain about a tax cut, even if it so obviously favors wealthy populations over the rest of society. But aside from increasing the wealth disparity in the country, there are consequences of the new tax law, unintended as they may be: low income housing.

It’s bad enough that many cities like Detroit with large numbers of low income and homes people are living in cars or under cardboard shelters – waiting for their names to rise on the waiting list for vacancies in public housing. Now, prospects for new low income housing have dimmed due to the loss of incentive for affordable housing developers to cover the fiscal gap in these projects, usually compensated for through low income tax credits. According to an article in the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/12/upshot/these-95-apartments-promised-affordable-rent-in-san-francisco-then-6580-people-applied.html) thousands of low income housing projects will not be built due to the loss of tax credit options,  leaving many to wait on a list until an opening arises.

Municipalities have responded by creating funding pools to replace the loss of federal commitment to financing housing. For example, the City of Detroit earlier this year announced plans to raise $250 million to help underwrite the construction of 2,000 new low income housing units. (https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2018/03/12/detroit-affordable-housing-fund/415749002/). Low income housing developers, housing advocates, and others are challenged to create new social enterprise models to get people off the street and into a stable habit. The new tax law isn’t helping.

Dennis Archambault is vice president for Public Affairs at Authority Health.

Kaiser Releases More Extensive Backgrounder on Social Determinants

By Dennis Archambault
Providers and community health organizations have increasingly come to understand social determinants of health, and how they become “determinants.” In a less fatalistic way, we might call them “influences” that individuals and collectives can alter, thereby giving folks a fighting chance.

In any case, it’s important to understand these social factors and monitor the many policy changes that are impacting them and the ability of individuals to overcome then. The Kaiser Family Foundation just came out with a new, more detailed backgrounder on social determinants, which is worth studying. What’s most interesting was a sidebar on states that integrated social determinants into Medicaid managed care contracts. In a way, it seems amazing that more aren’t, given the how removing social determinants can have a positive effect on health, and thereby save money for the managed care provider.

No matter, check out the latest KFF report on social determinants: https://www.google.com/search?q=Beyond+Health+Care%3B+The+Role+of+Social+Determinants+in+Promoting+Health+and+Health+Equity&rlz=1C1JPGB_enUS596US596&oq=Beyond+Health+Care%3B+The+Role+of+Social+Determinants+in+Promoting+Health+and+Health+Equity&aqs=chrome..69i57j0.28459j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

Dennis Archambault is vice president, Public Affairs, for Authority Health.

Why threaten unemployed people with loss of Medicaid health coverage?

By Dennis Archambault

The reasoning behind the current Michigan Senate legislation instituting work rules on Healthy Michigan doesn’t seem to make sense (https://detne.ws/2rr1mIP). People may be unmotivated to sign up for (and renew) health insurance for a variety of reasons. The threat of losing it or not qualifying for it because of their employment status is unlikely to motivate many of them to try harder.

Most people who receive Healthy Michigan and are able to work have some form of employment. Some even work two jobs and still need the program. Those who don’t work may have psychological challenges, or may simply not want to work. Taking away their coverage won’t change that. In fact, it’s likely to further hinder their productivity given that their health will deteriorate. And, the cost of their use of emergency facilities for otherwise manageable primary care or management of chronic disease will inevitably cost society more. Has there been a cost equation done to estimate how much it will cost if Healthy Michigan is taken from those who aren’t working?

Also, you’d think that the proponents would try to soften the blow by confirming that this unemployed population needs work-readiness help. Where’s the offer to provide job training and placement services? Maybe it’s there but under publicized.

Proponent s of universal health care argue that citizens of this affluent country deserve a certain standard of living – which is largely determined by their health. Whether they work or not is a different question.

The Senate certainly is serious about this. To hold the pay of public officials as ransom for instituting this program is quite a threat.

Dennis Archambault is vice president, Public Affairs for Authority Health.

WATER Act of 2018: Is this a solution whose time has come?

By Khawla Rahman

Watching Flint crisis news spew out through media nearly every other day has naturally brought heightened caution to the average homeowner, whether or not they live in Flint itself. Representatives Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Ro Khanna of the San Francisco Bay Area have introduced the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act of 2018. The WATER Act calls for the creation of a trust fund that would provide $35 billion a year to community drinking and wastewater needs. It will also create approximately 1 million new jobs across the entire economy. The plan would push back a certain amount of the Trump Administration’s corporate tax cuts, while simultaneously increasing corporate income tax by 3.5 percentage points. The Act would do the following:

  • Fully fund the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds
  • Provide additional technical assistance to rural and small municipalities and Native American governments
  • Increase funding to construct, repair, and service household drinking water wells
  • Create a new grant program for the repair, replacement, or upgrading of household septic tanks and drainage fields
  • Increase funding to Native American governments for water infrastructure
  • Require EPA to coordinate a study about water affordability, discrimination by water and sewer providers, public participation in water regionalization efforts, and water shutoffs
  • Restrict drinking Water SRF funding to publicly or locally owned systems
  • Provide funding for public schools to test and replace drinking water infrastructure
  • Provide grants to replace lead service lines serving households

In addition to all of the above, the EPA will conduct a nationwide survey on water affordability. The study will examine rates for water and sewer services: increases over the 10-year period preceding the study and effectiveness of funding. The study, in collaboration with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, will also explore discriminatory practices of water service providers. Plans that factor in many variables to increase effectiveness and reliability of water are important. This one is worth considering.


Khawla Rahman is a Communications student at Wayne State University. She is completing a public relations internship at Authority Health.

Is risk aversion safe for child development?

By Khawla Rahman
Growing up when a fellow child got hurt by an object, one of two things tended to happen often. Either the parent would tell them to get back at whatever it was that hurt their little one, or they would advise him or her that he or she is strong and much tougher than the pain. The parent would then go on to purchase multiple corner guards or place extra carpet over any inch of hard wood in sight.

This begs the question, do we as a society shelter our children too much? Meghan Talarowski, an American landscape designer who has compared British and American playgrounds https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/10/world/europe/britain-playgrounds-risk.html thinks so. She says that the appearance of a marketplace for high safety play equipment has lead to a gradual sterilization of child play. Characteristics like rubber floors on drop zones or “boulders” made of fiberglass create a “play jail.”

Her observations support this stance as well. They show that British playgrounds, which are known to intentionally place controlled risks like spiky bushes or big trees for climbing, had 55 percent more visitors overall and teenagers were 16 to 18 percent more active. Features like grass, sand, and high swings were what held the most attention. This is in stark contrast to American playgrounds where these ingredients are used minimally.
Britain isn’t the only country who believes in bringing in more risks to build resilience in children. Germany and Switzerland have more than 1,000 forest kindergartens where students, as the name may suggest, learn in the forest using sticks, sharp knives, and fire.

Nature engrossed learning is not nonexistent here but is definitely confined to the borders of extracurricular activities or summer camps. As Talarowski’s article suggests, does sense stimulation need to be incorporated more into the American lifestyle? Is it possible that we could be preventing children from being resilient by cocooning them?

The numbers give a firm “yes”.

Khawla Rahman is a Communication Studies student at Wayne State University. She is completing a public relations internship at Authority Health this spring.

Counseling, a critical component of housing security, is at risk in Detroit

By Dennis Archambault
Coming off a population health forum dealing with the broad impact of toxic stress among people existing in the health and social safety net, it’s not very comforting to realize that a major ally in the housing area is at risk of a significant funding hit. In August, United Community Housing Coalition will lose two HUD grants totally $1.1 million – about 90 percent of its housing placement funds. Housing placement (which includes tenant organizing in the senior high rise buildings in Midtown and Downtown) is a very important service that helps people navigate the process of saving a house from tax or mortgage foreclosure, or even finding a place to live. Ted Phillips, executive director of UCHC, says HUD doesn’t think counseling has merit. We’ve seen how counseling directly applies to moving people who are evicted from a gentrified building, or helping building managers do the right thing.

Housing is a critical social determinant – so much so that Housing First advocates believe that it’s at the top of the social determinant scale. (Although it’s hard to say that food security, transportation, public safety, built environment, and other determinants are that far down the list.) As the movie, “Ghostbusters” popularized, “Who you gonna call?” UCHC and other agencies are in business to take the call and help people made vulnerable by social circumstance meet their basic needs, and ultimately, live healthier lives.
Check out this Detroit Free Press article for details on the UCHC situation: https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2018/04/09/united-community-housing-coalition-hud-funding/482323002/

Dennis Archambault is vice president, Public Affairs, for Authority Health.