Dawn Villella / Associated Press)
Lansing – — Medicaid health coverage for the poor is scheduled to expand to 470,000 more Michiganians this year because of new laws passed last year that also resulted in hunters stalking wolves for the first time in 48 years and indigent criminal defendants being entitled to better representation.
State lawmakers approved more than 180 bills that became law in 2013 — the precise number depends on 11th-hour signings Gov. Rick Snyder or Lt. Gov. Brian Calley have yet to announce.
The approved legislation completed 52 percent of a Republican majority’s “action plan” that amounts to “common-sense, responsible government that puts the hard-working women and men of Michigan first,” said House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall.
But House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills said a relatively cooperative year of legislating ended with “an extremely disappointing final two weeks” when the GOP House and Senate passed bills doubling campaign contribution limits and banning abortion coverage in basic group health insurance plans.
The year’s production represented roughly 30 percent of the 625 acts adopted in 2012, including the watershed right-to-work law that made optional the payment of dues by union members. It also was below the more-common 300-plus new laws passed in each of the prior two years.
Gov. Rick Snyder, however, hailed an array of accomplishments that included not only Medicaid expansion he championed, but new laws gradually reducing the vehicle sales tax and reorganizing Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan in a way that will provide the state with $1.6 billion over 18 years to promote good health.
Medicaid expansion ranks among the most sweeping of Snyder-backed measures to pass the Legislature. It allows government-funded health care for those with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
The bill barely scraped through the Senate, where conservatives were intent on blocking anything that had to do with the federal Affordable Care Act of 2010, or Obamacare, and didn’t gain enough votes for immediate effect. The expansion will kick in March 14.
Snyder had to be persuaded to go along with the so-called “tax on the difference” hailed by auto dealers as a sales boost. It gradually introduces a formula under which Michigan’s 6-percent sales tax will apply to the difference between the price paid for a new vehicle or watercraft and the value of a trade-in.
Similar legislation died in 2012 when Snyder and Budget Director John Nixon objected to a potential $220-million loss of state revenue. Lawmakers’ willingness to expand the number of years before full trade-in value takes effect was the key to his agreement in 2013.
The new Blue Cross law transitions the state’s largest provider of health care coverage, with 70 percent of the marketplace, into a mutual company that can more nimbly adapt products to changing demand and offer insurance on the state’s Affordable Care Act exchange.
Lawmakers also agreed on legislation under which the state will create consistent standards for quality of representation given indigent defendants in criminal cases.
The state will oversee the program, ending a balkanized system of uneven funding and representation for public-supported defendants.
With those largely bipartisan accomplishments behind them, lawmakers ended the year in bitter discord over the abortion and campaign finance bills. The abortion legislation — forwarded to the Legislature after Right to Life of Michigan secured enough voter-initiated petition signatures — failed to get enough legislative votes for immediate effect and becomes effective in mid-March.
The abortion law permits coverage only as a separately-purchased insurance rider. While supporters said that as a matter of principle they don’t want to help fund someone else’s abortion, opponents denounced it as government intrusion on private business and said it asks women to buy “rape insurance.”
Republicans said the new campaign contribution law takes into account rising costs and protects First Amendment rights by allowing donors to issue ad campaigns to remain anonymous. Democrats said it gives undue influence to the wealthy and allows more secret money to pour into Michigan elections.