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Medicaid reveals split among Michigan Republicans

Something historic happened last night. The Michigan Senate finally cast a vote that means that nearly half a million citizens without health care will be able to have it. And they will be able to do so at no cost whatsoever to our state for three years, and only a pittance afterwards.

I thought of the former students I know with chronic pains they have to ignore because they can’t possibly afford a physician. Some of these people now clog our hospital emergency rooms for problems they should be taking to a neighborhood doctor.

You might have thought there would be dancing in the streets. But no. Most of the attention went to Tea Partiers and other sore losers snarling bitterly over “Obamacare,” which is not what this is.

Others, who seem to have spent their lives in an alternative universe reading libertarian comic books, said they didn’t believe the federal government would keep its promise to pay for the program.

Well, I guess you can’t blame them. True, Washington has made billions of Social Security payments over the last eighty years, and never once went back on its word. But there’s always a first time.

There are a lot of bizarre things about this entire issue. For one thing, when a Republican-led legislature passes a law pushed by a Republican governor, there are normally handshakes and congratulations all around. Last night, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, a supporter of the plan, acted as if Governor Snyder were sort of a political leper. Asked if the governor‘s presence helped, he said coolly, “I’m not going to comment on that.”

Theologically, what baffles me is that social conservatives, some of the people most opposed to the Medicaid expansion, are often fervent Christians. You might have thought that their Christian beliefs would lead them to be happy something was being done to improve the lives of the poor. But you’d be dead wrong. True, many ministers and priests are rejoicing. Pastor Bob Cornwall, who heads an ecumenical group, said “This is a huge victory for low-income Michiganders.” But Christians in politics seem to celebrate only those parts of their religion that forbid people from doing things.

The strongest argument in support of Medicaid expansion wasn’t the human one, but dollars and cents. The CEO of the University of Michigan’s vast health care system noted “expanding Medicaid will reduce health care costs by allowing people to get preventive care,” rather than wait till they are sick. That, in the end, was probably the argument that got eight of the twenty-six Republican senators to vote for it.

By the way, if money really is important to those who voted against this bill, there’s a way they could save our state dollars big time. When this bill comes back from the house, the Senate needs a two-thirds vote to give it immediate effect. Otherwise, not only will people have to wait three months longer for coverage, the Snyder administration says it will cost our state more than six hundred million dollars. Giving this bill immediate effect should be a no-brainer.

But given this legislature, don’t hold your breath.

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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