Michigan House Speaker Andy Dillion offers a rare concept: leadership

Michigan House Speaker Andy Dillon is offering a bold idea, even if it will not serve as the immediate solution to state government’s ongoing budget crisis. His idea of saving $900 million a year through combining state employees’ health plans will take years to realize.
Still, Dillon has displayed something just as valuable two months before the state possibly shuts down: the willingness to think big. We need more of that from this governor and Legislature.
The House Speaker this month suggested putting all of Michigan’s public employees under one health plan. Not just those who work for state government directly, but some 400,000 public employees, from teachers to police officers to township clerks. Consolidating hundreds of health plans into one would lead to efficiency and boost their buying power, he says.
You have to admire Dillon’s gumption. A Democrat, he is bound to make enemies of his natural constituencies — unions that draw power from negotiating their own health deals. Quickly, the powerful Michigan Education Association declared war on this proposal.
Yet the taxpayers who foot the bill for public employees’ health insurance should ask: Why not?
If there are hundreds of millions of dollars to be saved, isn’t it in the public interest to combine these far-flung health plans? Can public health be improved if these employees are insured by a single plan that emphasizes wellness and disease prevention?
We do not mean to oversell the speaker’s idea. It deserves careful scrutiny and debate from all sides. Dillon’s insistence that this change can be adopted before the year ends is ambitious.
Also, it may not by itself save state government from financial calamity next year. Lawmakers today are staring at a budget hole that is approaching $2 billion. Even if the Dillon plan were approved tomorrow, it would not generate its full savings until existing, union-negotiated contracts expire. Much of those savings, too, would be spread out across schools and other units of government, not the state budget.
However, this plan is important because it changes the conversation. It challenges a political culture in Lansing that appears to fear reform.
That starts with Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who has offered little leadership in this budget crisis (and has appeared noticeably cool to Dillon’s idea). It includes lawmakers, who through inertia or inexperience, also have not tugged at the roots of the state’s budget problems. The Legislature likely will have to cut spending to bring the state budget in line. Dillon has shown by example that it is possible — necessary, even — for lawmakers to take politically difficult stances in these difficult times.
And he has given them a proposal that can help prevent budget crises like this one in the future.
— Jackson Citizen Patriot