Honors News Archive

News in Brief

Dialog on Health and Poverty Continues

Feb 23, 2016
LaShawnDa Pittman at GC 2015
LaShawnda Pittman at Global Challenges 2015

UW Honors' Global Challenges - Interdisciplinary Answers series examines seemingly overwhelming forces through an interdisciplinary lens so that anyone might imagine themselves as agents of positive change. In our first event (last fall) we brought together more than 400 UW students, faculty, staff, and members of the public in the HUB South Ballroom. The evening featured a conversation between innovators from three very different corners of campus exploring the interrelations between health and poverty, a topic chosen by the previous year's incoming Honors freshmen. Selected for their leadership in research and related public-impact work, our speakers were: Steve Gloyd (Global Health), LaShawnDa Pittman (American Ethnic Studies), and Chandan Reddy (Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies/English).

Global Challenges - Interdisciplinary Answers on Health and Poverty was moderated by Honors Program director, geography professor, and co-founder of the Relational Poverty Network, Dr. Victoria Lawson. Dr. Lawson has devoted much of her career to addressing the underlying systems, assumptions, and conditions that produce and sustain poverty. She is teaching an Honors seminar this quarter: Care, Poverty, and Citizenship. Here Dr. Lawson answers a few last audience questions collected at the fall event; keeping this important conversation alive in the Honors community.

Q: I'm curious to hear what the biggest successes have been in advancing health care equity and what are the greatest challenges are in scaling those solutions.


Chandan Reddy at GC 2015
Chandan Reddy at Global Challenges 2015

I always think of the UK, Canada, and the Scandinavian countries as places with good health care equity.  These are countries with a single payer system, where the government negotiates with pharmaceutical companies for lower cost drugs, where the provision of health care is subsidized with public money, rather than being a for-profit venture. I grew up in the UK, where my parents are now elderly.  I also experienced the US health care system up close when my husband fought, and ultimately passed away from, Leukemia.  The contrast between health care accessibility between these two countries is stunning. The UK has invested in widely available primary and medium level care which is accessible to all legally resident in the UK at minimum-to-no cost, for care and drugs (even though you can pay for private care as well).  In contrast, the US has cutting-edge, high end, innovative care available - for those who can afford it. Meanwhile we still have approximately 30 million people without healthcare insurance. There are trade offs in these systems, but in terms of equity and access the UK wins hands down. 

Challenges in improving access to health care in the US - well, there are many. These include cost, the insurance-based model we have adopted as a for-profit venture, political priorities and complexity of need and systems of delivery in a country like the US. In the US, the federal government is relatively weak vis a vis the States in some aspects (e.g. education, policing policy, etc). As such, the States must opt into new programs - as with the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  Many states opted to stay out of the ACA, even though opting in would have provided millions of new federal dollars for lower income residents. So, political divides have trumped health care access.  

Q: With everything you've seen and studied, and given the long history of these issues, how do you keep hope for change? And what are those hopes?


Steve Gloyd at GC 2015
Ed Taylor speaks with Steve Gloyd at Global Challenges 2015

Great question! My hope comes from the hundreds of you who showed up to learn and think with us. Students and faculty at UW have made many research and practical breakthroughs with cleaner water, innovative medicines and better ways to organize and deliver healthcare to those in need.  Young people like this audience care, are bright and motivated. There is also a very optimistic engagement with politics these days. Thirty years ago, young people were not nearly so involved with issues of global poverty as today. Now you guys take the issue on directly. This comes from mobilizations like End Poverty Now!, Occupy Wall Street, the Indignados, Black Lives Matter, and many NGOs of all stripes.  You are the difference, in the research, policy, action and political arenas. My work is to teach you and to create space for you to make a difference-this is what gets me up each morning. My hope is that more and more of you will avoid political rhetorics that divide us and keep working hard to understand the history and complexity of these issues of equity and justice. I see plenty of evidence that this is happening and see no reason that it will not continue!

Q: Last night (November 2) I was frustrated by trying to vote after losing my ballot. After 30 minutes of Googling, it took a Facebook post and a friend's direction to find a link to print out a replacement ballot. Can you speak to front-end, customer-facing basic accessibility elements that inhibit access to existing healthcare infrastructure?


Low-income people in the US are often confronted with a sense of stigma or shame when they engage with the social bureaucracies (research the work of Rebecca Burnett, 2013; LaShawnDa Pittman, 2015; Celeste Watkins-Hayes, 2010 or on broader issues of exclusion from citizenship rights see Chandan Reddy's book Freedom with Violence). Indeed, researchers have traced the ways in which people often experience sanctions, discrimination, judgment when they enter governmental systems and encounter staff as they attempt to secure all kinds of assistance. As a result, many people stay away from government programs, even when they have deep need for services, to avoid these extremely negative experiences. Dr. Pittman recently published a paper on all the complex barriers facing African-American grandmothers that you can see summarized here.

One thing many people do not realize is the amount of time it takes to secure a living, as well as assistance from government programs, including the ACA healthcare program. Despite the value offered by this program, many low-income people are so busy securing their most basic needs, income, food, shelter, etc. that they literally don't have time to work through complex processes to access healthcare. People need guidance, financial support, and also respect from the broader society in order to access their needs and rights. There are of course, many other aspects to this issues as well, but these are the ones I have come across in my research.   

Read Nicole Einbinder's follow-up article capturing student responses to our first Global Challenges — Interdisciplinary Answers event and stay tuned for information about our 2016 event on Climate Change.