By Crystal Proxmire
LANSING — After a bunch of partisan back-and-forth, made more complex by disagreements within the Republican Party, the state Senate approved expanding Medicaid to cover a larger group of low-income residents. A similar bill passed the House earlier this year, and the next step is for the House to vote on accepting the SenateÕs version.
The Senate did not get enough votes to have the bill take immediate effect. That means that Michiganders will not be able to take advantage of the expansion soon enough to meet the requirements of the Healthcare Act, a.k.a, Obamacare. However, if the House passes it in that manner, itÕs possible that the Senate could re-vote and make the immediate effect happen.
Without immediate effect, the law becomes active April 1, four months after the bulk of Obamacare programs and regulations kick in. Some states have set up state-run health care exchanges to give residents options for finding affordable care. Michigan legislators did not do that, so Michiganders will either get private insurance, or get insurance through the Federal exchange. The Federal exchange is expected to go live Oct. 1, with information available at http://www.healthcare.gov/how-can-i-get-ready-to-enroll-in-the-marketplace.
The Medicaid expansion means that low-income individuals will qualify for taxpayer-funded insurance who did not qualify before. It was previously only available for those with disability or with children. With the expansion 400,000 new individuals with incomes of less than $15,500 a year, or families of three with less than $26,000, will be able to qualify. $1.7 billion in Federal funding will help the state cover this cost.
Republicans are split on the issue, and the legislative process has been slowed by conservative and Tea Party Republicans who generally oppose taxes and government regulations.
Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, has supported Medicaid expansion, and has struggled to bring party members together on the issue. In a statement Tuesday, Gov. Snyder said, ÒThe Senate should be commended for approving the Healthy Michigan plan, which will make a difference in the lives of nearly half-a-million Michiganders along with saving tax dollars and boosting our economy. This is not a generic Medicaid expansion, itÕs a Michigan plan. ItÕs about helping 470,000 Michiganders have a better life.Ó
Locally, the folks at FernCare Free Clinic are happy to see an expansion. The charity-run free clinic has an impossibly long waiting list of uninsured people who need medical care.
ÒAs a member of the Board of The FernCare Free Medical Clinic, I am familiar with the challenges faced by hundreds of thousands of working people in Michigan who have no health insurance. I am thankful to the Michigan House Democrats and Michigan Senate Democrats as well as the Republican Legislators who voted today to expand Medicaid. This is an important step forward to a healthier Michigan,Ó said Rudy Serra, who is also a judge and a former County Commissioner. ÒThe battle is not over yet. The Senate Bill must now be reconciled with the version passed by The House of Representatives and then go to the Governor. I urge all members of both houses to cooperate and give this bill “Immediate Effect” in order to meet the federal deadline for Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Let’s give our uninsured friends, neighbors and family members the medical coverage they need and deserve.Ó
Democratic State Sen. Vincent Gregory supported the expansion. He issued a statement saying, ÒI have been calling for Medicaid expansion in Michigan for nearly a year, and despite it taking almost a year to pass the Senate, I am glad we were finally able to take an important step forward on this bill today. Supporting Medicaid expansion has been about helping real people Ñ our families, neighbors and friendsÑwith real needs, and thatÕs what those of us who voted to pass this bill today are trying to do. Unfortunately, this important legislation continues to be held up by partisan rancor, with some Republicans voting against immediate effect today and threatening Medicaid expansionÕs ultimate implementation. Passing HB 4714 was an important victory, but it will all be for naught if the Senate Majority does not act swiftly to give it immediate effect.Ó
The official website for information about the new healthcare changes is http://www.healthcare.gov. This gives easy-to-understand information and questions to common questions about what the Affordable Care Act means to Americans.