Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 16, 2013

Editorial: Medicaid expansion vote makes sense

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — It’s not peace in our time. It’s not a return to sanity from the political extremes that have dictated Michigan politics for so long. And it’s not even a done deal.

But the vote by the state House early Friday to approve an expansion of Medicaid for nearly half a million Michigan residents was a compromise in which the good of the state and its citizens trumped ideology and politics. And that’s a good thing.

Now it’s up to the state Senate to make the same common-sense decision to provide medical insurance for the state’s poorest residents. It’s an offer too good to pass up, particularly for a state still struggling to recover from the Great Recession.

Under the expansion, the federal government will pay 100 percent of the costs of the expansion through 2017, and then the amount would decline to 90 percent by 2020.

The bill requires the additional recipients — those people who fall within 100 percent to 133 percent of the federal poverty level — to contribute 5 percent of their out-of-pocket medical costs. After 48 months, that co-pay would increase to 7 percent, or the recipient could purchase insurance on the health care exchange.

Gov. Rick Snyder had pushed hard for the bill, saying it was fiscally responsible. It’s been estimated that Michigan would receive about $2 billion a year through 2017; between 2017 and 2020, the amount would drop by 10 percent. Snyder has said he wants to bank some of those savings to help pay the state’s 10 percent contribution after 2020.

To turn away that kind of money for the state and cost state businesses millions all because of ideological opposition to Obamacare made no sense, and the House agreed.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce, while noting that it is still firmly opposed to Obamacare, said the expansion was critical for Michigan businesses.

The Chamber said it was estimated that without the bill, state employers could pay $54 million to $81 million in so-called “pay or play” penalties of up to $3,000 per low-wage worker not covered by insurance.

Wendy Block, the chamber’s Director of Health Policy and Human Resources, pointed out that those without health insurance often turn to the emergency room for care, a system that ends up costing those who do pay for their own insurance even more.

Passage is a “key competitiveness issue” for the state, she said, and “we call on the Michigan Senate to take bold action ... when they resume their work next week.”

That’s a powerful endorsement that puts the argument for expansion into a perspective that conservative, pro-business lawmakers can’t ignore.

This isn’t just a critical expansion of the safety net that has been so badly shredded in Michigan by the limiting of food stamps, welfare payments and unemployment benefits for the tens of thousands who lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

It’s a moral and practical step to look out for those who need help while helping ourselves. Michigan can’t afford to not do what it can to help the workforce the state will depend on to get back on its feet and thrive.

Three of northern Michigan’s seven House members — all Republicans — voted for the expansion: Wayne Schmidt of Traverse City, Frank Foster of Pellston and Greg McMaster of Kewadin.

Voting “no” were Ray Franz of Onekama, Phil Potvin of Cadillac, Bruce Rendon of Lake City and Peter Pettalia of Presque Isle.

Now it’s up to the region’s three state senators — Howard Walker or Traverse City, Darwin Booher of Evart and John Moolenaar of Midland - to get on the right side of this issue and vote for expansion.

It’s the right thing to do on a whole host of levels, from doing right by those who need it most to helping the state’s business community.

For many Michigan families, getting affordable medical care could be the difference between being able to land and hold a job or do well in school. We owe it to them and the state.