Healthy attention from Gov. Rick Snyder

Guest Editorial
Here is an excerpt from a speech Gov. Rick Snyder delivered two weeks ago. Fill in the blank:

“(Blank) is the foundation for Michigan’s economic transformation.”

If you guessed “jobs” or “a strong economy,” you would probably be like most people. You would also be wrong.

The key word in that sentence was “health.” And Snyder, the pro-jobs governor, was focused on personal wellness. He offered a far-reaching list of ideas, most of which are common sense.

The governor’s focus on health comes in response to real concerns for Michigan. Health costs have exploded in the last decade, with employers struggling to afford insurance for workers and hospitals groaning under the weight of unpaid bills. That has been the case nationally, too, with the birth of “Obamacare” as one response. A better prescription is to focus on personal behavior that adds to individual health costs.

To deal with childhood obesity, the governor wants to create a statewide registry for doctors to report child health data. He wants to ban smoking on state beaches. He is promoting health and wellness programs for workplaces. Basically, Snyder is looking to promote healthy behavior that is in individuals’ control.

The governor’s ideas should be no surprise. A former business executive, Snyder has seen how employers’ health plans have grown vastly more expensive. If individuals could focus more on wellness and prevention, they could avoid many calamities and long-term conditions that are expensive to treat.

Snyder’s proposals include two that are legitimately controversial. He proposes mandating health-insurance coverage for autism treatments and creating an exchange to offer health insurance for the uninsured to buy. The latter is a response to the federal health-care reform law.

Both ideas have drawbacks. The insurance industry bitterly opposes an autism requirement based on cost. And as for reacting to the federal law, Snyder might as well wait until after next year’s elections. A Republican Congress and Republican president no doubt would repeal “Obamacare” as soon as they would take office. Even if the law survives, states are not compelled to create their own insurance exchanges.

Snyder has said jobs are Issue No. 1, and they still are. Focusing attention on Michigan’s health, though, is good for the economy, if it can lead to healthier residents who need health care only for routine check-ups or true emergencies. The governor cannot overhaul the health-care system, nor should he try. But he has some good ideas that encourage personal responsibility. It’s a healthy first step.