Schuette fights 'misleading' health care claim, attacks Whitmer's vote cutting AG rate oversight

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Attorney General Bill Schuette, right, with Kali Pung of Alma.

Lansing — Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Schuette on Monday railed against a new health-care themed campaign ad launched by his opponent, arguing it makes false claims and points to a “growing credibility gap” for Democrat Gretchen Whitmer.

The ad alleges Schuette thinks insurance companies should “be allowed to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions," a claim that Bridge Magazine's Truth Squad has dubbed "misleading."

As attorney general, Schuette fought to overturn the federal health care law that guaranteed coverage for those patients but has repeatedly said protections for people with pre-existing conditions should continue in any replacement law.

Joined at a Lansing press conference by several residents with health care concerns, including a paralyzed woman in a wheel chair, Schuette called the ad a “joke” and said he has “consistently” supported pre-existing coverage protections.

He also went on the offensive, criticizing Whitmer for supporting a 2013 law that allowed Blue Cross Blue Shield to convert from a charitable corporation to a non-profit mutual insurer, which also removed attorney general from overseeing health insurer rates. 

“She doesn’t have any credibility on health care,” Schuette said, echoing comments from Democratic primary rivals who had attacked Whitmer over her ties to the state’s largest insurer. Whitmer’s father used to run Blue Cross, and executives hosted a fundraiser for her in March.   

“She’s not fighting the insurance executives, she’s working for them and voted to remove attorney general oversight on Medigap, and then Medigap rates doubled.”

The state Department of Insurance and Financial Services now oversees rates.

Whitmer has made health care a flagship issue in her campaign, touting her bipartisan work to expand Medicaid eligibility through the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. Schuette opposed the expansion but now says the Healthy Michigan program is “not going anywhere.”

The Whitmer campaign responded to Monday’s press conference by arguing that Schuette is “desperately” trying to rewrite his record on health care.

“My colleagues and I see every day that health care coverage is a life-or-death matter for many, many Michigan families,” Michigan Nurses Association President Jamie Brown said in a statement released by the campaign. “Gretchen Whitmer is the only candidate for governor who can be trusted to protect the millions of Michigan residents with pre-existing conditions whose lives would be at risk if Bill Schuette has his way.”

Schuette has also benefited from political contributions by Blue Cross and its employees. The company’s political action committee has given him $137,500 since 2010, according to the non-partisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network. Whitmer raised $144,710 at the fundraiser executives hosted for her this year.  

The difference, he argued, is that "I've stood up to Blue Cross" and in 2011 negotiated a five-year freeze on rates for Medigap, which fills in health care costs not paid by Medicare. The attorney general’s office had a rate oversight role until bipartisan passage of the law that allowed Blue Cross to become a mutual insurer.

The Whitmer campaign did not directly respond to a question about the 2013 legislation which was unanimously approved in the state Senate and signed by GOP Gov. Rick Snyder.

Instead, spokeswoman Nicole Simmons noted Schuette joined nine separate lawsuits to fight the federal health care law and suggested he orchestrated Monday’s press conference because he is “trailing badly in the polls and his campaign is on life support.”

Mike Pung of Alma vouched for Schuette, saying the attorney general personally called Blue Cross Blue Shield President Daniel Loepp when the insurer tried to cancel payments for private duty nursing for his paralyzed daughter in 2013.

“Can anybody look at Kali and think that isn’t a pre-existing condition,” said Pung, a past campaign contributor who Schuette said he has known for 30 years. “And guess what? I had no avenue to sue under the federal law that Obama bragged about.”

Lana Mangiapane, another Schuette supporter from Rochester Hills, said she is confident Schuette will fight for patients with pre-existing conditions like her granddaughter Faith, who has a genetic abnormality called Trisomy 18 and uses a wheel chair and walker.

“I know Bill Schuette,” Mangiapane said. “I know his character, and he cares about those who need help.”

Asked what he would do to improve health care coverage on the state level in Michigan, Schuette demurred and returned to his theme.

“This is a press conference about clearing the air and setting the record straight that I’ve always been for coverage and maintaining pre-existing conditions,” he said.

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