White, Rural GOP Counties Get Exempted from Medicaid Legislation

Republicans in the legislature are working to change Medicaid in Michigan, but only for certain people, as they have tailored the language of pending legislation to exempt some of their constituents from being affected.

The bill at hand, Senate Bill 897, imposes work requirements on certain recipients of Medicaid, the federal-state program providing healthcare to low-income people, families and children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with disabilities. It has drawn criticism from social justice groups, especially the Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP), which released a study recently showing that not only are most Medicaid recipients already working, but those who are not cannot for medical purposes or because they serve as a primary caretaker, for instance.

Worse yet is a report from the Detroit Free Press outlining an even deeper impact of the legislation: An exemption for those residing in counties where the unemployment meets or exceeds 8.5 percent.

Perhaps conveniently, the counties benefitting from that exemption are mostly rural, mostly white and predominately represented by Republicans, including a bill co-sponsor. And because the exemption is based on the county rather than a city, village or township, for example, those living in urban centers with high unemployment rates don’t get to benefit from the exemption.

While the Free Press pointed out Detroit was one of those cities, information from Michigan agency tracking unemployment rates showed that in March, other predominately Black communities like the cities of Muskegon, Saginaw, Flint, and Highland Park also had unemployment during the month of March – the most recent month for which data is available – exceeding the 8.5 percent threshold in the pending legislation. Information for the city of Benton Harbor was not immediately available, and other communities of color like Pontiac and Inkster were just shy of the exemption threshold.

Notably, many of these majority African American communities were stripped of voting rights at various times via the state’s Emergency law, so the move to also impose certain requirements for residents to receive their healthcare via Medicaid is yet more punitive action from elected officials who don’t live in those communities and don’t seem concerned with how those residents fare.

So, who will get exemptions? Based on the unemployment information collected, there are 17 counties with unemployment rates meeting or exceeding 8.5 percent: Kalkaska, Oceana, Alcona, Iosco, Lake, Emmet, Chippewa, Ogemaw, Ontonagon, Arenac, Schoolcraft, Roscommon, Alger, Montmorency, Presque Isle, Cheboygan and Mackinac.

The majority of those counties are represented by the following Republicans: Sen. Darwin Booher of Evart, Sen. Wayne Schmidt of Traverse City (a co-sponsor of the legislation), Sen. Tom Casperson of Escanaba, Sen. Jim Stamas of Midland, Sen. Goeff Hansen of Hart, Rep. Scott VanSingel of Grant, Rep. Daire Rendon of Lake City, Rep. Sue Allor of Wolverine, Rep. Triston Cole of Mancelona, Rep. Lee Chatfield of Levering, Rep. Jason Wentworth of Clare, and Rep. Larry Inman of Williamsburg.

Rep. Sara Cambensy of Marquette and Rep. Scott Dianda are the only Democrats whose districts, the 109th and 110th, respectively, would partially benefit from the exemption.

While the legislation did not yet clear the House committee it was assigned to (which held a committee hearing on the bill today), the lack of changes to the bill means it continues to be on the radar of the social justice groups that have been watching it from the start, including the MLPP. Examples of other groups publicly opposing the legislation include the Center for Civil Justice; Michigan Protection and Advocacy Services; National Association of Social Workers – Michigan Chapter; American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network; Michigan Health & Hospital Association; American Heart Association; Ascension Health; Michigan Council for Maternal & Child Health; and more.

“The House Fiscal Agency analysis shows the bill would cause 105,000 struggling Michiganders to lose coverage—and that’s not something to celebrate,” MLPP President and CEO Gilda Jacobs said. “This bill will increase uncompensated care costs and the program will cost the state $20-$30 million annually. And it will hurt a majority of Michiganders that it claims it will help. The House seems to be following the Senate’s lead in rushing through this bill before truly understanding its consequences, but without a vote today, we still have time to change their minds.”

Danielle Emerson

Danielle Emerson