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Snyder’s baffling switch on healthcare

Sep 22, 2017

Governor Rick Snyder has done two remarkably positive things for Michigan in his nearly seven years in office, both in his first term. First, he found a way to get around a legislature corrupted by campaign donations and make a deal for a new Detroit River bridge.

Granted, the Gordie Howe International Bridge has yet to be built, but it now seems all but certain it will be. That’s something crucially important for the long-term economy of this state and region. But the immediately worthwhile thing Snyder did was narrowly succeed in pushing the legislature to accept Medicaid expansion four years ago.

This has resulted in a staggering 600,000 Michiganders having health insurance who didn’t before, something that for the first few years came at absolutely no cost to the state, and thereafter will never cost us more than ten percent of the total bill.

This has resulted, as the governor predicted at the time, in a healthier work force and a healthier state. Any rational group of lawmakers would have voted unanimously to accept this in two minutes. But it nearly failed because of a group of irrational right-wing ideologues who cared more about trashing anything related to the Affordable Care Act than they did about the health of the citizens they were sworn to protect.

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But Snyder, in the key major legislative triumph of his career, succeeded in persuading just enough of them to switch and approve the expansion, though we did lose millions because in a fit of spite, they refused to give the bill immediate effect. At the time, the governor sensibly said “this isn’t about the Affordable Care Act. This is about one element we can control in Michigan that can make a difference in people’s lives.”

That was four years ago, and now the Republicans are gearing up for a second attempt to kill Obamacare, and Medicaid expansion with it. The Senate is expected to vote soon on a “repeal and replace” substitute called Graham-Cassidy. If this passes, according to Jay Greene, a respected health care reporter for Crain’s, it would mean the complete elimination of benefits for those now covered under the Medicaid expansion within less than nine years, unless the state were willing to pay all the costs itself.

This would be a massive health care disaster for our state. Brian Peters, CEO of the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, said this would be “simply unacceptable.” A number of Republican governors are strongly opposing Graham-Cassidy, including John Kasich of Ohio.

But Rick Snyder hasn’t said a word.

When a Crain’s reporter asked the governor’s office for comment, it issued a statement saying: “We are still reviewing provisions of the bill and how it might affect Michigan. Feel free to check back next week.” The owner of a major Lansing public relations firm told me, “I guess all those people who thought Snyder was truly some form of independent can now see that he has just evolved into a typical Republican politician.”

But it’s baffling why the governor is abandoning something he cared about and which was a huge success. His political career, thanks to Flint, will be over after 2018.

Graham-Cassidy would be a disaster for the business interests he says he cares about. For years, many people in Lansing felt they never really knew who Rick Snyder was.

Perhaps we never will.

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.