Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 10, 2013

Editorial: Medicaid expansion benefits far outweigh any downside


---- — Northern Michigan residents need to keep a close eye on the folks they've sent to Lansing to see how they vote on a proposal to extend Medicaid eligibility to hundreds of thousands of Michigan residents who don't have health insurance.

On Wednesday Gov. Rick Snyder called for extending Medicaid eligibility to an estimated 470,000 Michigan residents and while saving a few hundred million dollars along the way.

Under the Obama administration's health care overhaul the federal government will pick up the entire cost of the expansion in the first three years of the program and 90 percent over the long haul. Snyder said expanding Medicaid to nearly half of the state's uninsured citizens is "a win for all" and a "huge"opportunity for the state.

He said the move would save the state $200 million a year initially because more people who now receive mental health services and medical care from state-funded programs will instead be covered with federal money.

Hospitals will also save as individuals begin visiting doctors in their offices instead of turning to the emergency room or putting off care until they face a crisis.

Snyder said he said he wants the state set aside $100 million of those savings every year so Michigan can kick in for new enrollees down the line.

Despite the benefits to Michigan, Snyder's endorsement is expected to run into opposition from Republican lawmakers who are still fighting "Obamacare" even though the battle is, for all intents and purposes, long over.

This is an opportunity for the state to save an estimated $1 billion over 10 years but some lawmakers will no doubt still put up a fight. These are many of the same people who have voted to slash education funding by tens of millions in recent years and have also voted to give businesses millions in tax breaks. Many of them will be ready and willing to deny Medicaid coverage to those who most need it simply because the party tells them to.

That's unacceptable and something voters will need to remember when these same lawmakers seek re-election or aim for new jobs on the public dime.

Eighteen months ago, Snyder tried to create an online marketplace where the uninsured could get taxpayer-subsidized private coverage, but the proposal was killed by the Republican-led Legislature. Now, Michigan will likely be part of an exchange controlled primarily by the federal government, not by Lansing. So who won that fight?

Opponents of the Medicaid expansion say Washington may renege on the 90-percent deal; even if that happens, the fact remains that the state can opt out any time it wants to; that's no downside.

There are also concerns Michigan may not be able to afford the $150 million to $200 million it will have to kick in after 2017 as its 10 percent share. But Snyder's plan to set aside $100 million a year from savings will help offset those costs. At worst, spending $200 million while saving $200 million would be a wash budget-wise, but a major plus for those thousands who will get at least some access to health care.

The Small Business Association of Michigan supports the move to help end the practice of those with insurance subsidizing care for the uninsured.

This is simply too good a deal to pass up; Snyder became the sixth Republican governor to embrace the program, including Ohio's John Kasich just last week.

Opposition, particularly opposition driven by politics alone, can't be justified. Lawmakers have an obligation to Michigan citizens to do what is best for them. In this case, what's best is extending Medicaid coverage to nearly a half million citizens whose health care needs trump ideology any time.