Bankole: Medicaid bill would devastate Detroiters

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

Saundra Gay has been doing a lot trying to remain alive since a traumatizing accident in 2000 left her with a spinal cord injury and confined her to a wheelchair.

Ever since the Ford Explorer she and some family members were in flipped on the road in Toledo after hitting a deer, Gay has been battling the challenges and obstacles that come with a disability.

But she has not given up.

Her resilience was evident Monday evening when she shared with me her painful yet remarkable story of survival inside the North Rosedale Park Community House on the city’s west side, where she took part in a standing room-only town hall I moderated on auto insurance rates with 200 seniors.

Besides the high cost of auto insurance that Gay has concerns about, she now has to worry about the Medicaid bill (SB 897) that is making its way through the Legislature in Lansing.

The bill, according to studies, would disproportionately affect unemployed blacks in Wayne County — more than their white counterparts in rural areas. The bill would impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients and exempt largely white counties where the unemployment rate is above 8.5 percent.

“I was on Medicaid for 11 years and got off because I made roughly $10 over what was required. I just applied again for Medicaid,” Gay said. “For two years me and my husband had no health insurance because we couldn’t afford it. My husband had to go back to work out of retirement even though he had a heart condition.”

The 55-year-old Detroiter, who worked for the late Detroit City Councilwoman Brenda Scott as an administrative assistant from 1994-2000, has a message for Gov. Rick Snyder.

“I’m asking him to not please sign this bill,” Gay said. “This would affect my quality of life. It would devastate me.”

Gay represents countless blacks in similar predicaments who will be subjected to greater hardship if the bill were to become law.

The weight of this bill would be shouldered by blacks. And as a result, the measure gives the appearance that the Legislature is writing discrimination into law.

Snyder must reject this bill now and tell its sponsor, Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, to go back to the drawing board.

I asked the governor’s spokeswoman Anna Heaton on Monday where he stands on an issue that is already putting Michigan in the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

“The governor does have concerns with the bill and is working in good faith with the sponsor to see that it is amended throughout the legislative process,” Heaton said.

State Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, D-Detroit, sees the measure as nothing but an attack on Detroit.

“SB 897 which seeks to require 30 hours of employment in communities predominantly of color, without taking into account barriers to unemployment, mental health and even children into consideration is a deal breaker,” Gay-Dagnogo said. “Should Medicaid recipients in Detroit be any less entitled to benefits than those in more northern Michigan cities?”

The nation is already racially divided. Michigan has had its share of racial challenges and it doesn’t need another reminder in an ill-advised bill that will convey the message that one group of people will be favored at the expense of the other.

I have disagreed with Snyder over the course of his term, including his handling of the Flint water crisis and the seeming abdication of state government’s responsibility during the course of that public health scandal.

But I have also agreed with the governor on his decision to not join the bandwagon of opportunistic and publicity-hungry elected officials from his own party vowing to repeal the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), even when it was politically unpopular to do so.

As he prepares to exit office next year, Snyder, who is not known to stoke the racial flames for cheap popularity, has an obligation to stop the bill.

The only thing standing now between Michigan’s black Medicaid recipients and a Legislature bent on punishing them is the need for a compassionate and conscientious governor.

If Snyder dismisses this bill, he would be giving a reprieve to many whose lives reflect that of Saundra Gay.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Superstation 910AM.