The astonishing hypocrisy of Medicaid opponents

Aug 29, 2013

You know by now that the Michigan Senate has finally voted to approve expanding Medicaid benefits.

The vote, which came Tuesday night after months of struggle, means that eventually nearly half a million of our citizens will have at least basic health care, people who don’t have it now.

The cost to the state itself will be nothing for three years, and only a pittance afterwards. The benefits in terms of human decency and a healthier workforce, enormous.

Those who opposed Medicaid expansion said they didn’t think we should burden future generations with another “entitlement cost.” Many of them also admitted their opposition was based on their hatred of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which they continue to oppose even though it was passed by Congress, passed Constitutional muster with the Supreme Court, and essentially ratified by the voters in last year‘s presidential election.

But those senators lost, fair and square. Now, however, fourteen of the eighteen are being sore losers who seem determined to do something spiteful to hurt both the state and the poor.

After the expansion was approved, these senators voted against giving the bill immediate effect. This means that instead of kicking in on New Year’s Day, when the Medicaid expansion officially begins, Michigan won’t be able to take part till April.

You might think, “hey, that’s only three months.” But it is three months with truly devastating consequences. If immediate effect is not approved, the state will lose $7 million dollars a day in money Washington is making available to help sign people up for Medicaid coverage. That means Michigan will lose six hundred and thirty million dollars in January, February and March.

Perhaps even worse, the working poor themselves might be penalized. Under the terms of the Patient Affordable Care Act, many low-income individuals will pay a fine for not having health insurance.

People who the Legislature just voted to allow to receive Medicaid not only will have to wait three more months to get it, they could face a fine of $95 a year or 1% of their income, whichever is higher.

We are talking about people who exist on an income of fifteen thousand dollars a year.

But I haven’t told you the worst part of this yet. As Brian Dickerson of the Detroit Free Press reminded us today, every one of the eighteen senators who voted AGAINST expanding Medicaid to the poor voted two years ago FOR giving all but one of themselves lifetime health care at taxpayer expense.  

Senator Patrick Colbeck of Canton didn’t qualify, for technical reasons. But the rest do. And after the vote, thirteen senators who successfully voted themselves lifetime health care voted to make the state and the poor suffer financially for three more months before getting basic health care under Medicaid.

Those senators include Darwin Booher, Jack Brandenburg, Bruce Caswell, Judy Emmons, Mike Green, Joe Hune, Rick Jones, John Moolenaar, Mike Nofs, Phil Pavlov, John Proos, Dave Robertson and Tonya Schuitmaker. Each voted for lifetime health care for themselves, after serving no more than eight years in the senate.

I suggest their constituents ask them to explain why.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, the University of Michigan.

*Correction - a previous version of this commentary stated "the working poor themselves will be penalized" and that "they will face a fine of $95 a month." The potential fine would be $95/year or 1% of their income, whichever is greater - and it's unclear at this point whether the federal government would fine these individuals in Michigan. The copy has been corrected above.