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Hands off Michigan health care

Roger Martin

First there was HillaryCare. Then came the good, bad and uncertainty of Obamacare. Well good news: now there’s RockyCare.

We forgive you if you’ve forgotten the name of serial politician Andrew “Rocky” Raczkowski. After a few terms as a state representative from Oakland County, he went on to lose races for the U.S. Senate, U.S. House and state Senate. Now he has a new scheme: to give state government the power to set and regulate the price of every medical procedure charged by every medical professional in Michigan. What could possibly go wrong if state government assumed the power to regulate the charge card of Michigan’s entire health care system?

Raczkowski is spearheading a ballot proposal petition drive that would create a new state law that says every medical professional in Michigan could never charge any person or insurance company more than 150 percent of what they accept from any other person or company as payment in full. Why 150 percent? Why not 152 percent or 82 percent? Only Raczkowski knows.

If he gets enough signatures, the RockyCare question would go on the November 2016 statewide ballot. If it passes, it would apply to any medical professional delivering any kind of care that requires any form of state government license or certification. This appears to include doctors, hospitals, physical therapists, dentists, massage therapists, nursing homes and possibly even veterinarians; nothing in the language limits this to humans. All will be required to keep detailed records of their billings and presumably report them to a giant, new state government bureaucracy. And all would presumably be at risk of a lawsuit if some person felt they had been “overcharged,” because obviously there are too few lawsuits in health care today.

I don’t have the space in this column to list all the ways this could go horribly wrong. But let’s start with the obvious: while this proposal seems to put a ceiling on the cost of medical procedures, it will probably have the opposite effect of raising the floor. Medical providers will stop giving deep discounts or charitable care to anyone — the uninsured, and people who seek care but can’t afford to pay — if that discounted price sets the maximum price for every future charge.

Let’s also stipulate that it can’t possibly work in the real world as easily as it may sound on paper. If you think your state government is competent and big enough to manage the prices charged by every single medical provider to every single patient every time they come in for care, you should seek immediate attention from a qualified professional. In 2012 alone, Michigan hospitals recorded more than 43 million patients seeking in-patient, out-patient and emergency room care. Michigan doctors and dentists recorded millions more patient visits. And millions more were treated by nurses, therapists, nursing homes and all other licensed medical professionals. If you think state government has the funds and bureaucracy to regulate all of that, just drive Michigan’s roads.

And there are two other things we should all be able to agree on. First, whether you think Obamacare is good or bad, it has introduced sweeping changes to our health care system. Some of its promises are unfulfilled, and many of the consequences are still completely unknown. It would be a terrible idea to turn our health care upside down again with RockyCare. It’s just too much disruption all at once. RockyCare plus Obamacare equals near total government control of our health care.

Second, deciding the pricing of health care by ballot proposal might be the dumbest idea ever.

Yes, much about health care is frustrating and downright confounding. But this proposed ballot initiative is the wrong solution, and Raczkowski should keep his hands off Michigan’s health care. And you would be wise to keep your hands — and signatures — off his petition if you’re asked to sign.

Roger Martin is spokesperson for Hands off Michigan Healthcare and a partner at Martin Waymire.