Wednesday, June 13, 2018

OpEd on Senate Bill 897

As Christians, we are called to live out our faith through kindness and generosity to others and by pursuing justice and reconciliation. In a time when so many families are struggling with rising health care costs, stagnant wages, and constant economic upheaval and instability, it’s particularly disheartening to see some of our brothers and sisters in Christ, who find themselves in positions of leadership, overlooking this suffering.

When I first heard of Senate Bill 897, a punitive bill that will force thousands of Michiganders off of affordable health insurance because of arbitrary restrictions, I admittedly was not sufficiently concerned about the reality of the threat. After all, just a few short years ago, the Healthy Michigan program that this bill threatens was passed with strong bipartisan majorities and hailed by Republican Gov. Snyder as a win-win for access to affordable healthcare, reducing costs from uncompensated care, and creating thousands of new jobs.

Sadly, weeks later this bill has passed both houses of the legislature and Gov. Snyder appears poised to sign it.  Gov. Snyder, please veto this bill.  As a practicing Presbyterian, surely you see the folly of imposing new arbitrary standards, creating new impenetrable layers of bureaucracy to make it more difficult for the poorest among us to access affordable healthcare.

Nothing about this bill advances the causes of generosity or justice for our fellow Michiganders. In Michigan, a large part of our state’s economy is driven by seasonal employment in tourism and industries driven by the tourist cycle. Most recipients of Medicaid work, but these kinds of seasonal disruptions that are a fact of life for many Michiganders will end up forcing them off health coverage. In addition to cruelly depriving them of access to necessary health care, this will drive up the costs of uncompensated care, causing many rural clinics to close.

In my family’s case, my 28-year-old daughter has Medicaid medical insurance due to special needs.  She works for a nonprofit organization which provides programing for persons with autism 24 hours a week and gets paid for 15 of those hours at minimum wage.  She has tried to work for other employers, but her limitations beyond her control make that impossible.  She is happier now working in an environment which overlooks her quirks and challenges and uses her gifts.  However, her employer cannot afford to pay her more.  This legislation threatens her medical coverage, which is critical for her because of many health conditions.
Adding extra bureaucracy will hurt people who are eligible but may have difficulty navigating additional red tape, as well. Thousands of Michiganders, including families like mine who may have children who are special needs or are otherwise ill-equipped to deal with these kinds of restrictions, face the possibility of losing healthcare coverage despite actually being in compliance with both old and new standards.

The bill asks for the Trump administration to approve punitive 5% premiums, which are unprecedented in the Medicaid program and could result in people with low incomes losing coverage should they fail to pay. If the Trump Administration fails to re-approve changes to Michigan’s plan, cancels the waiver in the future, or if litigation invalidates the waiver a program that provides affordable healthcare to nearly 700,000 Michiganders, the program will simply die.

One of Gov. Synder’s most meaningful achievements was fighting through partisan roadblocks to do the right thing in designing a Healthy Michigan program that increased access to healthcare for hundreds of thousands of Michiganders. The program saved lives from Detroit to De Tour Village, it allowed many rural clinics to continue providing care to their neighbors, and it created jobs. Most importantly, it carried out the Presbyterian mission of putting one’s faith into practice by providing necessary medical attention and care to Michiganders who needed it most. Killing this program would be a mark on the governor’s legacy and on all of us as a state.

Gov. Snyder should veto this cruel and arbitrary bill and preserve access to affordable healthcare for Michigan.  Signing these cruel and arbitrary restrictions to health care into law would be shameful. And all of the candidates vying to replace Gov. Synder in November should take note: taking steps to rip health coverage away from people not only harms our state’s well-being and economic vitality, but could plunge families of special needs children like mine into crisis.  We must, and can, do the right thing and preserve health care access for Michigan families.

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