Column: Protect Healthy Michigan as is

RoAnne Chaney and Farah Erzouki

We are hopeful that in the debate in Lansing over mandating work requirements for Medicaid recipients, facts will win out. Legislation recently introduced seems to be driven in large part by misinformation about who is eligible and is using this vital program that helps boost the health and lifespan of many Michiganians.

According to available data, the vast majority of people on Medicaid today are children under 18, people with a disability or senior citizens with minimal or no income from retirement savings.

A sizable number are pregnant mothers. Some are getting drug treatment for opioid addiction. A few others are caregivers for residents with a disability or older adults, receiving some pay but saving the state substantially from providing these vulnerable populations full-time care otherwise.

Advocates of imposing work requirements have provided no evidence showing able-bodied individuals are abusing the Medicaid system.

Some point to the state’s Healthy Michigan Plan — expanded Medicaid, opened to those who make under 133 percent of the poverty line (about $16,000 for a single person, or $33,000 for a family of four) — as the place where people are obtaining affordable health care while avoiding work.

The data — and the economy — suggest these arguments don’t meet the test of evidence-based public policy. About half of those in the Healthy Michigan Plan, which covers about 650,000 people in our state today, are already working, many because of the health care they receive through the Healthy Michigan Plan. People with diabetes or heart conditions who were unable to work due to poor health now can get the treatment they need to join the workforce.

Of the other half of Healthy Michigan Plan recipients, the vast majority are in education programs, suffering from a mental impairment or are experiencing a long-term health condition that makes them physically unable to work. Research by the University of Michigan for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services concludes that only about 7 percent of people in the Healthy Michigan Plan are not working.

And they may have good reason. The Michigan Association of United Ways has documented that 40 percent of Michigan’s jobs don’t pay enough to cover living expenses like food, shelter, child care or transportation — and many don’t offer health care, or they charge tremendous amounts that are not affordable to those who struggle to make ends meet.

If you are a person with a low income in a rural area across the state, there are few jobs that provide health care. Seasonal work on farms or in the tourism business, or employers at fast food restaurants and low -paying retailers, usually offer no or very limited health insurance. To find those people, get them job training and secure them transportation and day care for children will cost the state more than it saves, at a time when we are not even able to pave our roads.

The legislation will add bureaucratic hurdles to getting health care by asking individuals to fill out and return paperwork, possibly including verification from employers or medical providers, that can result in people we represent, including the disabled and some who may have English as a second language, losing health insurance.

We’ve seen in other states that additional paperwork and reporting requirements will ultimately result in lost coverage for individuals who actually are eligible for coverage — and not end up putting more people into the workforce. Let’s abandon political rhetoric and stereotype-driven policies that are unnecessarily attacking residents in need.

RoAnne Chaney is executive director of the Michigan Disability Right Coalition. Farah Erzouki is public health coordinator at ACCESS.