By KENZIE TERPSTRA
Capital News Service
LANSING – Michigan’s population is less healthy than the national average, ranking below most other states, including its Midwestern neighbors, in premature death rates, infant mortality rates and access to health care.
Michigan consistently spends less per capita on public health than the national average and currently ranks 40th among the states in public health spending, according to the Citizens Research Council, a nonprofit organization that studies local and state government.
“Michigan has very significant health disparities, especially disparities across racial and ethnic lines,” said Corwin Rhyan, the health economics and policy research director at Altarum in Ann Arbor.
The research council collaborated with Altarum, which works with federal and state agencies to improve health outcomes for Medicare and Medicaid recipients.
“There are significant disparities in health by race and ethnicity, income and geography,” the Citizens Research Council said in the report.
These disparities are a major influence on overall poorer health outcomes such as premature deaths..
“Across racial and ethnic groups, there is over a fivefold difference in the rate of premature death,” the report states. African Americans, Native Americans and Native Alaskans suffer from worse outcomes than white, Hispanic and Asian residents.
Rhyan said,“We’re talking about the availability of primary care physicians, the availability of mental health and behavioral health care, access to maternal care and prenatal care.”
Health disparities are driven by environmental, economic and social racism, the report found. Environmental racism can be found in housing safety and access to clean water as older and marginalized neighborhoods are at greater risk of exposure to environmental toxins.
“Black residents in the state are seeing worse outcomes than any other racial and ethnic group,” Rhyan said.
Earlier this year, the Michigan Public Health Advisory Council published a call to action with recommendations to improve public health based on input from public health officers, government officials, health care professionals and advocacy groups.
“Trust is lacking between public health and medical care leadership,” the advisory council said. “Politicization of public health has taken a toll on the workforce and public health.”
The advisory council said that “highly effective public health systems should be resources for everyone, represent diverse populations and help communities to flourish.”
The report identified communication challenges between residents and public health systems, including “a lack of clarity in messaging, conflicting and confusing messages and substantial misinformation.”
It recommended forming a “health delivery coalition” among the Department of Health and Human Services, local health departments, medical groups and large health systems.
Natasha Bagdasarian, the state’s chief medical executive, said that type of collaboration can increase public trust.
Despite low public health funding, Michigan compares favorably to other states with low rates of uninsured residents, below-average health care costs and above-average numbers of physicians per capita, the Citizens Research Council said.
“We need to do a better job of distributing those health care resources to all folks living across the state,” Rhyan said.
In July, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation to ensure residents can continue to access affordable health care and lower health care costs.
The legislation allows the Department of Health and Human Services to provide incentives for healthy behaviors rather than enacting barriers to health care coverage.