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Are Governor Snyder's Medicaid tour tactics effective?

Governor Rick Snyder has launched a common-sense offensive aimed at getting the state senate to pass a Medicaid expansion bill that would give health insurance to hundreds of thousands of Michigan citizens who aren’t now covered.

His strategy is to get people to put pressure on their vacationing state senators to return to Lansing and vote. 

Yesterday, for example, he pushed his “Healthy Michigan” initiative at a couple of hospitals in the Detroit area.

One of them was William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak where he talked about a “dumb and broken” health care system, and urged the medical community to help pressure the lawmakers. Well, I’m sure he was preaching to people who already agree. Beaumont officials know full well that the uninsured use their emergency rooms as primary care facilities.

Anyone who visits one at night can plainly see that. A few years ago, I demonstrated my athletic talents by stepping on a rawhide dog bone and breaking two toes. 

I live near Beaumont, but I took one look at the huge lines and bedlam that was their emergency room, and went to a walk-in care clinic where I paid to have my foot taken care of.

Emergency rooms aren’t just inconvenient. They’ve become dangerous places these days. The head of emergency medicine at Beaumont recently released a six-hospital study showing an alarming increase in emergency room violence against doctors, nurses and staff. Some is due to psychotic patients or drug abusers. But things also have been made much worse by, as the Detroit News put it, “overcrowding that can lead to frustrating waits for treatment.”

The Medicaid expansion would almost certainly help with that, at little cost to the state. More than three hundred thousand people would immediately have health care coverage who don‘t now. Eventually, nearly half a million would. 

Michigan would pay nothing at first, and never more than ten percent of the total cost, and that not until 2020.

The governor said yesterday, “this isn’t about partisanship, this isn’t about politics, this is about common sense.”  Unfortunately for him and us, he is two-thirds wrong. Medicaid expansion does make common sense.

Yet the state senate is home to more than a few ideologues who couldn’t care less how well things work in practice; they are against it if it doesn’t pass the test of their theories.

They also aren’t especially concerned what the voters think. Most of the majority Republicans have been gerrymandered into one party districts. They are most worried that if they don’t seem far right enough, they will face a primary challenge from someone even more opposed to so-called big government than they.

Last week I had dinner with some longtime Lansing lobbyists. They mostly didn’t think much of Snyder’s methods. “Know how John Engler would have done this?” one asked me. “He would have brought lawmakers into his office one by one and told them: ‘You know that project you wanted for your district? Vote the wrong way, and that’s going away.” I got the sense they still liked the governor who calls himself “One Tough Nerd.” 

They just want to see a little less nerd, and a lot more tough.

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

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