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Lawmakers must decide to keep Michigan healthy

Jack Lessenberry

I doubt that anyone who is listens to or reads my commentaries would think of turning to me for dating or relationship advice, but I am going to give you some anyway.

If you are single, and want to meet someone, you probably don’t want to go to the bar with a copy of the governor’s budget request and say, “Hey, there’s some really interesting stuff in here.”

That probably wouldn’t even work in Lansing.

But there is some interesting stuff in there, and a lot that will potentially affect you far more than Lady Gaga’s latest tattoo. Governor Rick Snyder had gotten some favorable publicity for wanting to increase the higher education budget, for example.

But he’s requesting an increase for prisons nearly twice as large. That’s because the lawmakers who won’t spend money to properly fix our roads feel the need to keep thousands of people expensively locked up who committed non-violent crimes decades ago.

He wants to spend more for his own office, while cutting transportation, natural resources and his own once-ballyhooed Department of Talent and Economic Development.

But what worries me most is something I agree completely with the governor about – the Healthy Michigan program, which provides health insurance to more than half a million lower wage workers in this state. For the last three years, the federal government has picked up all the expenses in connection with the program, now nearly two billion dollars a year.

That was perhaps the biggest bargain this state has ever gotten. Nevertheless, the governor only barely got this passed, because of the opposition of ideological fanatics who were against virtually all government spending.

Well, now Michigan for the first time has to help pay the costs of this wonderful program. We don’t have to pay much – only 5% of the total. In fact, the way the law is written, the state will never have to pay more than 10%. Our share for the next fiscal year will about to about $108.7 million, which wins our citizens nearly $2 billion more from Washington.

But there are still those in Lansing opposed to this deal. We see the result of their irrational thinking with every pothole we hit and every extra tuition dollar we pay. And my fear is that they will try again to scuttle this program now that we have to pay something for it.

Most Lansing insiders don’t think this will happen. Most members of the business community love this program. They get a healthier, more dependable workforce.

We aren’t talking, by the way, about free Blue Cross, but about basic Medicaid for a family of four with a total income of no more than $33,000 a year. But the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, Dave Hildenbrand, and some other key players fought hard against this three years ago.

Their irrationality was so complete they spitefully refused to give the Healthy Michigan bill immediate effect once it did pass, which cost the state hundreds of millions.

If somehow we don’t pay our pittance of the cost, six hundred thousand people will lose health insurance, which would be an economic and human disaster for this state.

I have to hope our elected representatives aren’t that nasty or stupid.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays 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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