Michigan governor prods GOP lawmakers to expand Medicaid
Story Originally Appeared in The Detroit News
Snyder tries to woo lawmakers to increase access, not cap coverage
Mackinac Island — Gov. Rick Snyder is redoubling his efforts to get lawmakers this month to approve expanding the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor before the Legislature recesses for the summer.
Snyder said Friday he has invited U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to meet with Republican lawmakers to consider a House GOP proposal to put a four-year lifetime cap for able-bodied adults to be on Medicaid.
As state policymakers and business leaders departed Mackinac Island on Friday after the Detroit Regional Chamber's annual three-day policy conference, Snyder said Medicaid expansion is a more pressing issue for the Legislature to address before its scheduled June 27 summer adjournment than raising new revenues for roads.
"I would say it has more urgency," Snyder told reporters after wrapping up a policy conference that focused on education, immigration and Detroit's future.
Michigan's fiscal year starts Oct. 1, when the federally funded expansion would begin, so officials need time to get federal approval for changing the program to the Legislature's liking, Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said.
Snyder's original proposal to expand the Medicaid program under the federal government's terms was rejected by fellow Republicans who want to place new restrictions on the taxpayer-funded insurance program.
The federal government has promised to pay for expanding access to the program to individuals earning up to $15,282 annually (or $31,322 for a family of four) through 2017. Then the state gradually would be expected to cover 10 percent of the costs.
"If we take this money, it's not going to be on their terms, it's going to be on our terms," Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, said Friday.
But federal officials have signaled they won't approve a four-year lifetime cap on Medicaid enrollment, and Snyder has questioned the legality of such a restriction.
"That would be a challenge," Snyder said of getting federal approval. The governor recently met with federal health officials in Washington, D.C., about the House GOP plan after lawmakers did not include his $1.3 billion Medicaid expansion plan in the 2014 state budget.
Democratic lawmakers, who support the Medicaid expansion included in President Barack Obama's health care law, claimed Friday that Republicans want to pass their proposal and blame the Obama administration for rejecting it.
"It's not a constructive solution to actually getting something done here," said House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills.
Greimel said debate on Medicaid expansion is dominated by a minority of House Republicans and that business groups and most lawmakers "want to enact something that's going to stick."
House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, denied Friday that his caucus wants to pass a Medicaid plan that they know won't be allowed by the federal government.
"That's absolutely untrue," Bolger said. "What we've put forward is very reasonable."
The Legislature is scheduled to work until June 27 before recessing for July and August, although House leaders have indicated they wanted to leave Lansing by June 13. Lawmakers have two work days scheduled in July and August.
Former state Sen. Gilda Jacobs, president and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy, said opponents of expanding Medicaid may try to stall and run down the legislative clock.
"It makes no sense to drag our feet into the fall because it's going to take time to get started," said Jacobs, who supports Medicaid expansion. "If they want to make this happen before they break for the summer, they can do this if there's the will."
Some lawmakers are concerned an overhaul of transportation funding could take a back seat to Medicaid in June.
House Transportation Committee chairman Wayne Schmidt said Friday he may hold committee votes as early as Tuesday on bills to change the way gasoline and diesel are taxed.
"I just want to get some wind back in the sails," said Schmidt, R-Traverse City.
"We got the budget done. Now we've got to get back to roads."
At the Mackinac Policy Conference forum Friday, Richardville said he is optimistic lawmakers could tackle both issues this month.
"We have to decide if we want to be big boys and girls and take on these problems … or punt them down the road," Richardville said.