Story should be number on Medicaid

Guest Editorial
The Medicaid debate in Michigan has rightly focused on the failure of the Republicans in the state Senate to allow a floor vote on a proposal to accept federal funding to expand the health insurance benefit to about 450,000 low-income Michigan residents.

Many legislative Republicans, including state Sen. Joe Hune (R-Hamburg Township) say they oppose the expansion because of how it will swell the state’s Medicaid rolls, which already number 1.9 million. That’s about one of every five people in the Great Lakes State.

They are missing the point. The number of people on Medicaid in itself should be a state disgrace, particularly when a large number of these low-income families include children. What type of society tolerates 20 percent poverty levels as par for the course? And what kind of government makes it a priority to further punish its low-income residents?

But that’s the story with Senate Republicans who balked at a plan that would extend Medicaid eligibility to include those with incomes up to 133 percent of the poverty level. That benefit would be paid for by the federal government for three years and then the state would have to pick up 10 percent of the cost after that.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder favors the plan, saying it extends coverage and brings millions of federal tax dollars back to the state. It was passed in the state House with Republican support. The Republican Senate leadership refused to bring it to a vote and went home for the summer.

Some Republicans oppose the measure for legitimate reasons: Even though it’s so-called free money, it will continue to be a drain on the federal debt; also, they worry about where the state will come up with its share of the Medicaid payments in three years.

Other opposition isn’t so noble. Some don’t want to approve anything that supports Obamacare, even though it is the law of the land. Others fear a primary challenge from the right if they vote for it.

Then there is the explanation given by Hune, who combined a sense of humor with a sense of irony when he justified the nonvote on Medicaid expansion because “it was just not right jamming that through.”

Hune, of course, was among the many legislative Republicans who had no problem jamming a right-to-work law through a lame-duck session late last year. It’s too bad the same sense of urgency can’t be mustered for nearly a half-million residents … who don’t have health insurance but could have it in an instant with a legislative vote.

The bigger issue, of course, is the number of people whose income is so low they qualify for Medicaid. That’s 20 percent of the state. It’s better in Livingston County, where only 8.8 percent qualify, which is the lowest in the state. But that’s still 16,000 people.

Right-to-work and cuts in business taxes were supposed to create jobs. Until it does, the Legislature needs to do its job and vote on providing health ainsurance to low-income families.