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The coming health care disaster

Mar 15, 2017

As you almost certainly know, there’s a Republican-backed bill before Congress that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, known to most people as Obamacare.

Republicans control both houses of Congress, and if they stay united on this, the bill should become law, perhaps within weeks.

If that happens, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that within nine years, the number of people without health insurance in this nation would grow by 24 million.

That number is disputed by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who claims the bill would lower premiums, cut the federal deficit, and increase access to health care.

But even he doesn’t deny that some would lose coverage.

What I’ve been wondering is what this would mean specifically to Michigan. So, I checked in with the experts, and their conclusions are remarkably clear: If the Ryan plan passes in its present form, vast numbers will lose coverage, and some will die as a direct result.

Charles Ballard is a professor of economics at Michigan State University who has specialized for years in our state’s economy. Professionally, he doesn’t look at policies through an emotional filter but by crunching and analyzing numbers.

According to Ballard, those numbers show that “across the country, thousands of people are alive today who would be dead without the insurance coverage they have received through the Affordable Care Act.”

In an analysis he finished last weekend, Ballard wrote that if Republicans succeed in passing this plan, “tens, maybe hundreds of thousands in Michigan would lose coverage,” and without any doubt, more and more will die needlessly.

What’s more, it would be extremely damaging for our state’s economy. One of the most important parts of the Affordable Care Act was a provision allowing states to expand Medicare coverage to include families who are struggling but slightly above the official federal poverty level. Some states refused on ideological grounds, even though Washington until now picked up the entire cost.

States, in fact, will never pay more than ten percent. Thanks to Governor Rick Snyder, Michigan signed up for the plan, and more than 600,000 people have health care who didn’t before.

Marianne Udow-Phillips now heads the Center for Healthcare Research at the nonpartisan Michigan League for Public Policy. She estimates Medicaid expansion has created 30,000 new jobs every year in our state and generated $2.3 billion dollars in additional spending power. And while this year Michigan will have to pay five percent of the costs of the program, she found that the expansion has increased sales tax receipts nearly enough to pay for itself.

Her findings were echoed by a team of University of Michigan economists, medical professionals and health care policy experts in an article last month in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Led by Dr. John Ayanian, director of the Institute for Health Care Policy and Innovation, they found continuing the program would have clear economic benefits for Michigan for the foreseeable future.

Professor Ballard told me that some taxes indeed would be rolled back under the GOP health care plan but added that “they are paid almost exclusively by people with very high incomes.”

What’s going on here is crystal clear, the experts agree. I just wonder how many citizens are aware of the actual facts.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.