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Commentary: More evidence for Medicaid expansion

As you may know, the federal government has offered to expand Medicaid coverage to families whose incomes are less than one hundred and thirty three percent of the poverty level.

If you wonder how much money that is, I looked it up for you – slightly less than $26,000 a year for a family of three. The answer to the question: How do you support three people on that and afford health insurance? is that you don’t.

If Michigan accepts, an estimated 320,000 people who now have no health insurance would be immediately covered. That would rise to nearly half a million people within a few years. The cost to the state government would initially be zero.

After the year 2020, Michigan would have to pay 10 percent of the cost. This would still, health care experts say, be a mere fraction of what all these uninsured people currently cost the state.

Governor Rick Snyder, who is not exactly known for expanding the social safety net, instantly realized what a good deal this was, and urged the legislature to approve it.

You think this would be a no-brainer. But these are the same folks who refused to even vote on accepting a free new bridge paid for by Canada, even though virtually every business and industry interest wants it.

The lawmakers give various irrational reasons for not supporting Medicaid expansion, the most common of which is that they don’t trust the federal government to live up to its agreement to pay. That’s funny. They don’t seem to have any problem accepting on faith that Washington will stand behind the paper currency they use.

What seems clear to me is that some of them just don’t want poor folks to have health insurance, and will oppose it even when that makes no sense.

Yesterday, however, the lawmakers got new evidence as to how silly not expanding Medicaid would be. A coalition of law enforcement officers showed up at the capitol to demand its approval.

Why do police and prosecutors care? Because it would save them money too. It costs taxpayers less to provide medical treatment than it does to lock people up.

Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings noted that we used to have a mental health system in Michigan, and added, “We don’t anymore; we have a criminal justice system.” And locking up the sick costs far more than treating them.

A group called Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, Michigan presented a report showing that medical coverage could save taxpayers an average of nearly $25,000 for each troubled kid who would be potentially eligible for Medicaid. The primary target group is victims of fetal alcohol syndrome, the vast majority of whom have been at least arrested for a crime.

The data apparently has won at least one convert, State Senator Roger Kahn, who is himself a physician. Kahn told a press event the uncovered now tend to seek emergency room care, and said this was wrecking the cost structure of the state’s hospitals.

For the sake of all of our health care needs and our wallets, we ought to hope that his sanity will somehow influence his colleagues, and prevail.

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