Editors Note: This post was written by a wonderful summer intern, Madeline Higgins, as a reflection on her work over the summer. Madeline is a student in the MPH program at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, and we are sure she will go on to do great things!
I was lucky to intern at the Washtenaw Health Plan this past summer, where I got to observe the services that WHP provides and work with a new program involving Community Health Workers. Meanwhile, the federal government was attempting to greatly reduce the Affordable Care Act, which had the potential to negatively impact the health of residents in Washtenaw County. While I learned many facts, protocols, and systems, the items listed stick out most in my memory.
1. There is a significant gap in understanding of the reality of healthcare and policy impact from federal legislators.
I believe this stems from decision makers finding information that enforces their current worldview instead of looking at fact-based data. While watching and reading about the legislative process for healthcare reform, I was struck by the lack of listening and understanding from both sides of the aisle. While everyone utilized individual stories to demonstrate their points, there was little conversation about population-level health outcomes. After reading reports and statistics which utilized a population health framework, it is obvious to me that overall, the Affordable Care Act has positively impacted health in the US.
2. You can work minimum wage full time and not qualify for Medicaid (as a single individual household).
I learned this towards the end of my time with WHP. I hadn’t done the math before, and it was hard for me to imagine living on the minimum wage in the Ann Arbor area in regards to housing costs, let alone health care. To me, this further demonstrates the need for a livable minimum wage.
3. Pre-existing condition protections help us all.
At some point in our lives, we are likely to experience some health setback where we utilize the healthcare system. It is advantageous to us all to include people with pre-existing conditions in the insurance pool because one day that could be us!
4. Everyone has questions about healthcare- and it is important to find places to get good information.
The Washtenaw Health Plan is a great place to ask for help! No matter your insurance plan, there seem to be terms and deadlines that won’t make a lot of sense until you ask an expert or seek reliable resources. I also wrote a blog post this past summer about reliable resources regarding health care access, and it totally changed the way that I look for information about health.
5. People who do direct service work can (and must) also do policy advocacy.
Washtenaw County is organized and ready for action! I sat in on many meetings where people were putting their heads together to make sure they had the right information to talk to colleagues, legislators, and their clients about how federal policy change (for example, reduction in SNAP benefits) is detrimental to our community. This is vital to both keeping their jobs but also elevating the health status of the Washtenaw County population.
6. Above all, if healthcare was treated like a human right, the tone of this conversation would be very different.
People at the WHP recognize that healthcare is more complicated than having access to insurance. Health is about access to nutritious foods, opportunities to relax, space to exercise, and of course the occasional donut from Dom’s. Working in the county government showed the interconnectedness of the systems that comprise of people’s access to health. I believe if we are more inclusive to people’s needs we can work together to improve the health of Washtenaw County.