Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 25, 2013

Fred Goldenberg: State Senate doesn't address poverty

BY FRED GOLDENBERG
Special to the Record-Eagle

---- — Let’s start with the facts.

Twenty five percent of Michigan’s children live in poverty; 10 percent of all Michigan seniors live in poverty; 18 percent of women in Michigan live in poverty; and 42 percent of single-parent families with related children live below the poverty level.

The statistics also show 17.5 percent of all Michiganders live in poverty, with 8.1 percent living in extreme-poverty. More than 14 percent of families live with food insecurity every day. Yet 31.6 percent of these individuals are working. Of those working, 21 percent are working at minimum wage, which is $7.40 per hour. Thirteen percent are uninsured.

Here’s another fact: the Michigan state Senate doesn’t care.

At the end of July the Michigan Senate adjourned for a little taxpayer paid R&R without voting on the issue of Medicaid expansion through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Gov. Rick Snyder proposed legislation to expand Medicaid under the federal program and the Michigan House passed the Governor’s bill. Snyder's plan is called Healthy Michigan, and would require new Medicaid recipients to cover 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 a health care exchange.

On July 31, under extreme pressure, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) held hearings on the issue in his Senate Government Operations Committee (a whole three hours’ worth) and the vote was to move not only Snyder’s plan forward, but two competing plans as well.

Sen. Patrick Colbeck’s (R-Canton) bill would shift current Medicaid recipients into a free-market solution, involving $75-per-month premiums and high deductibles for recipients. The other by Sen. Bruce Caswell (R-Hillsdale) would shift responsibility for the cost of providing health care to low-income Michiganders to the state, rather than the federal government. It also would be limited to those who fall 100 percent or below the federal poverty level. Under the federal plan states can expand Medicaid to cover individuals and families earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty line, which is $15,500 for an individual; $26,500 for a family of three, and $30,000 for a family of four.

If the governor’s plan is adopted, federal funds will cover 100 percent of the cost of Medicaid expansion from 2014 to 2016, 95 percent in 2018, 93 percent in 2019 and 90 percent in 2020 and subsequent years. If any plan other than that which meets federal guidelines is adopted, the state is giving up millions upon millions of dollars in which to pay for health insurance for 470,000 residents.

Plus, logic dictates that a family of four living at 133 percent of poverty level or less, who has to pay rent, buys food, clothes, gas, medicine, etc. would be hard pressed to pay monthly premiums and/or high deductibles. If they could I suspect they’d be doing it today. But they can’t and under the alternate plans thousands upon thousands of individuals and families will continue to be disenfranchised.

We taxpayers provide every Michigan senator with a base salary of $71,685 per year, making them the fourth-highest paid legislators in the country, with an additional $10,800 per year for living expenses and 54 cent per mile auto reimbursement, plus we taxpayers are saddled with paying 80 percent of their health insurance premium. Their benefits plan has low deductibles and co-pays, plus dental, vision and life insurance.

The members of the Michigan Senate are public employees. They may not want to hear it or even believe it but as public employees, I’d venture to say that we (taxpayers) are overpaying for services received and those obstructing the overhauling of the Michigan and national health care programs need to be removed from feeding at the public trough and sent back to the private sector.

Gov. Snyder has put aside the petty partisan politics and recognized the importance of the Affordable Care Act for Michigan. He saw the need and solution and embraced it. There is a national health insurance crisis and the ACA is the first step. The Senate reconvenes on Tuesday. I’d suggest that you call your senator and tell him/her to get in step with the governor and the House and move Michigan forward.

Fred L. Goldenberg is a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) and the owner of Senior Benefit Solutions, LLC, a patient and consumer advocacy and financial services organization in Traverse City. Questions or comments about this column or other senior issues can be directed to (231) 922-1010 or fred@srbenefitsolutions.com