LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The leader of the Republican-dominated Michigan Senate said Wednesday he is tentatively planning to hold a much-anticipated vote on Medicaid expansion legislation in late August, assuming a group of senators studying the issue proposes a plan as early as next week.
Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, said the full Senate could vote Aug. 27 or 28 — or the following week — on whether to cover hundreds of thousands more low-income adults with government health insurance under the federal health care law.
Gov. Rick Snyder, angered when the Senate adjourned in June without voting on a House-passed Medicaid expansion plan that included GOP requirements that participants pay some costs, has been publicly pressuring fellow Republicans for an up-or-down vote. He has previously indicated that a late August vote would come too late for him to secure federal approval in time to cover newly eligible recipients starting Jan. 1.
Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said there is no hard and fast deadline, but each passing day makes it harder to implement the expansion.
"It's urgent for Michiganders, our small businesses and job providers, and our state's taxpayers," she said.
A Senate workgroup meeting privately is expected to propose an alternative to the House bill next week, with public testimony to follow in a July 31 legislative hearing.
"There's no sense in getting into a big dialogue until we know what we're talking about," Richardville said Wednesday during a brief hearing he convened to provide an update.
Conservative activists who oppose Medicaid expansion and Democrats who support it expressed concerns about making sure the public can weigh in on what the study group proposes. Richardville said the public will be able to give input.
"This a huge issue, a multibillion-dollar issue. It will have a huge effect on taxpayers here in Michigan. We look forward to numerous public hearings to fully vet what's going on in secret right now," said Scott Hagerstrom, director of Americans for Prosperity-Michigan.
Richardville declined to discuss specifics but said changes being considered are designed to appeal to conservatives. He mentioned protecting state taxpayers if federal waivers aren't granted and having Medicaid participants take more "personal responsibility" — features already included in legislation that cleared the GOP-led House on a bipartisan vote in June. If major revisions are made to gain more GOP votes, expected backing from Democrats could be at risk.
Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton Township, on Wednesday introduced the first of two bills designed to provide a "free-market" alternative by moving Medicaid enrollees to high-deductible plans wrapped within health savings accounts. He plans to discuss the legislation with the workgroup on Thursday and said it would lower health care costs without expanding government.
Richardville wants at least half of the 38-seat Senate's 26 Republicans to be OK proceeding with a vote but has indicated he could drop the unwritten rule for the Medicaid measure.
Snyder is traveling to hospitals across the state to push for a Medicaid expansion plan called "Healthy Michigan," which he says would save money because the uninsured would have primary care coverage instead of going to the emergency room for expensive care. Otherwise, he says, Michigan taxpayers will pay $1.5 billion in taxes under the Affordable Care Act and get nothing back, and hospitals will see lower Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements and receive nothing in return.
But conservatives are concerned about a large expansion of government and say states that expanded Medicaid access in the past saw emergency visits rise, not decline. Democrats accused Republicans of putting their own political interests ahead of those of the state.
"How is the public supposed to trust the Legislature to work through the many difficult challenges in front of us when they see we can't even pass something that nearly everyone agrees is the right thing to do?" said Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing.
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