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Michigan legislators continue to fail on Medicaid expansion

Many months ago, the federal government offered the states an astonishing deal.  Washington would extend eligibility for Medicaid insurance to people who make up to a third more than the official poverty rate. We aren’t talking people who are well off.

Currently, Medicaid is available for a family of four making twenty-three thousand a year or less; this offer would enable the same family to be covered if they make up to a little over thirty-one thousand. That would mean almost half a million folks in Michigan now without health insurance would have it.

The cost to the state would be nothing at first, and never more than ten percent of the total. Economists say even when the state is paying ten percent, Michigan will actually save money, thanks to the benefits of having a healthier work force.

Our lawmakers should have approved this in five minutes. The Michigan House of Representatives eventually did approve a version of it, though with a mean-spirited requirement that the poor pay something after the first four years.

But the state senate is infested with right-wing ideologues who hate any government health care. They refused to even take a vote, choosing to go on vacation instead. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville of Monroe wanted to do anything except lead, and claimed the issue, which had been studied to death, needed more study. This did lead to some bad press for the zealots, led by their fellow Republican governor’s demand that they “take a vote, not a vacation.” Finally, yesterday they showed up.

The Senate government operations committee finally sent what they said was a new version of the governor-supported bill to the full senate. Actually, it was barely changed. But in an astonishing failure of leadership, Richardville, who had said the original bill hadn’t been studied enough, also sent two brand-new crazy alternative bills to the floor. Both would make fewer people eligible for Medicaid and put the cost burden on the state, rather than the federal government. As Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer correctly noted, when you stand for everything, you stand for nothing. What’s more, the full senate won’t even vote on any of this till the end of the month.

All this means two big problems. One is that we may well miss the deadline for people to start being insured. The other is that if the legislature tries to impose too many crazy conditions on Medicaid, Washington may well refuse to accept them, and hundreds of thousands of Michiganders will remain without health insurance, clogging hospital emergency rooms for primary care.

Politics is supposed to be the art of the possible, and government is supposed to be the art of making life better, not holding citizens hostage to our lawmakers’ prejudices and crazy ideological theories. We currently are suffering from an odd group of legislative “leaders” who hate the idea of health care for everyone, and who refuse to accept a national plan passed by Congress, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, and tacitly ratified by the people in a presidential election.

They are costing us pain, hardship and money, and it is time that grownups took over the business of running our state.

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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