WUOMFM

600,000 people could lose "Healthy Michigan" benefits

Sep 17, 2015

I didn’t watch much of the Republican Presidential debate last night, but listened to some of it while driving.

What struck me was that all the candidates talked as if President Obama was the worst thing in our nation’s history. 

Worse than the Civil War, the Great Depression, you name it. 

Well, I don’t propose to get into an analysis of the current administration.

But I will assert that there is clear evidence that in one very important way, President Obama has made life better for people nationally, and in Michigan: Health care coverage.

Yesterday, a few hours before the debate, the U.S. Census Bureau released new data showing that more people have insurance both nationally and in Michigan than before the Affordable Care Act took effect.

Michigan has improved more than average.

That’s largely thanks not only to President Obama, but Governor Rick Snyder and the Healthy Michigan Plan, otherwise known as the expansion of Medicaid to those just slightly over the official poverty rate.

Overall, nearly a quarter of a million more people in Michigan had health insurance last year than the year before.

According to the Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation, the number of adults in our state without any coverage was cut in half, from 14% to 7%, just between 2012 and 2014. Overall, nearly a quarter of a million more people in Michigan had health insurance last year than the year before.

It would be hard to exaggerate how positive this is.

Naturally, people are better and happier citizens, better parents and partners when they are healthy, but they are also better workers and employees.

I haven’t seen any efforts to quantify this, but our more healthy population has to be reducing absenteeism and boosting the productivity of our businesses.

Most of the increase comes from the expansion of Medicaid benefits through what is called the Healthy Michigan Plan, which the Legislature barely passed two years ago. They expanded Medicaid coverage to those making up to about one-third more than the official poverty rate.

We aren’t talking free health care for the affluent. The most a family of four can earn and still be covered is $32,500 a year. And without this, those folks would have no health care.

And right now the federal government is paying for everything.

Michigan won’t have to pay anything till 2017, and never more than 10% of the entire cost. But this coverage is seriously threatened. Conservatives forced two waivers into the Michigan bill. The first was approved by Washington, but the second hasn’t yet been approved.

Unless Washington accepts the waiver, or the Legislature modifies the bill by the end of this year, everybody in the Healthy Michigan plan will lose all benefits at the end of next April: 600,000 people.

It would require those getting benefits to pay higher co-pays, or to enroll in a federal Health Insurance Marketplace and lose some Medicaid-provided services, such as dental coverage. Regardless of what you think about that, here’s the big problem.

Unless Washington accepts the waiver, or the Legislature modifies the bill by the end of this year, everybody in the Healthy Michigan plan will lose all benefits at the end of next April: 600,000 people.

That would be devastating for them and the state.

Few have noticed yet, but it is essential this be fixed, and that may be hard. The current Legislature seems less sympathetic to health care expansion than the one that barely passed this. It will be interesting, to say the least, to see what happens next..

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.