Expanding Medicaid saves taxpayers of Michigan money - and lives

The people of Michigan elected the members of the state Senate to be leaders, not vacationers.

Unfortunately, the Senate forgot that Thursday and adjourned for its summer vacation. It left Lansing without voting on a bill that would provide health care coverage to nearly half a million working Michiganders.

Ensuring access to affordable, quality health care is one of the most significant challenges facing Michigan. The Healthy Michigan plan developed over the past several months is a plan that addresses many of the state's needs and reflects the state's values.

Healthy Michigan will require those covered to share in the costs through premiums, and like many private insurance systems, it will provide incentives for those covered to take responsibility for their lifestyle choices and maintain or improve their health.

Today, those without health care insurance typically wait until their medical conditions are so severe that they no longer can ignore them, and then they go to an emergency room. That's an expensive way for them to get care. What's even worse is they have to suffer with their illnesses. It's not right, and it's a failure for our society. That's a failure for all of us, and we should do something about it.

Plus, treating those without insurance places an $820-million burden for uncompensated care on Michigan's hospital industry each year. The result is that individuals with insurance and businesses pay higher premiums to cover the cost of uncompensated care. Reducing the amount of uncompensated care will help control medical costs and improve our state's economy and business climate.

The Senate's failure to act means Michigan is missing out on an opportunity to make a significant difference in health insurance costs for our state's job providers, especially small businesses. As leaders of this state, our focus should be on creating more and better jobs, and Healthy Michigan would help do that.

The Senate's failure to act also means we're missing out on an opportunity to save the state's taxpayers $206 million in the next fiscal year by providing Healthy Michigan plan benefits to those now receiving services paid for with general fund dollars.

To be clear, the federal dollars for Healthy Michigan would come to us as part of the Affordable Care Act. I know many people have strong feelings about this law. In many respects, I don't think it's the right answer. However, it is the law of the land, and the real question is: What can we do to make it a positive for Michigan?

I've been working with the Legislature for the past several months on this issue. We've developed a commonsense plan that fits Michigan's needs and gives us the opportunity to provide health care coverage to hundreds of thousands of people who are working and uninsured. It's the right thing to do.

The majority of Michiganders support it, and the state House approved it with a strong bipartisan vote. I believe the majority of members in the Michigan Senate support Healthy Michigan. I also believe it's not right for the Senate to go on summer vacation without voting on it.

That's why I'm asking all Michiganders to join me and change that. Every time you see your state senator this summer, tell him or her: “Take a vote, not a vacation.”

Article originally appeared in The Detroit Free Press on June 23, 2013