Healthy Michigan Plan gets healthy start!

The Healthy Michigan Plan, Michigan’s Medicaid expansion, opened for enrollment on April 1, and within the first 72 hours, 36,329 applications were submitted through the MIBridges website and 20,995 were approved for coverage. By Tuesday, the number of enrolled shot up to 59,280 — an amazing number for a two-week period.  That means that more than 109,000 people are now covered, including those who were transferred over to the plan from the Adult Benefits Waiver program.

The program is off to a great start — great news for Michigan’s low-income uninsured. The online enrollment system is working well with the majority of applications being processed in a matter of minutes or even seconds.

The Department is urging applicants to use the website, if possible, due to the quick response time. However, applications can also be made in person at a local Department of Human Services offices or by phone.

Unlike the Health Insurance Marketplace (Healthcare.gov) there is no defined enrollment period for the Healthy Michigan Plan. It is open all year.

The Healthy Michigan Plan provides comprehensive coverage to low-income uninsured Michiganians with incomes below 133% of the federal poverty level.

Most Healthy Michigan Plan participants will select a managed care plan to receive their care. Participants will have access to a broad range of services including preventive services as well as the services needed to keep chronic conditions, such as diabetes, under control.

My colleague, Judy Putnam, recently had the opportunity to chat with a low-income worker who had just gained coverage under the Healthy Michigan Plan.

A caterer by trade, Connie Rush, 50, of Ann Arbor, said he has not been able to afford health insurance for many years — even working multiple jobs. Rush said he is healthy but at an age where he needs to check on such things as cholesterol and blood sugar levels and blood pressure. The Healthy Michigan Plan will allow him preventive care he didn’t have before.

“Instead of not going to a doctor, I will go to a doctor,” Rush said. “At least I know if I do go to a doctor, I’m covered. It’s less stress, definitely.”

He added: “At last I have a safety net. I am very happy that this opened up.”

– Jan Hudson

Healthy Michigan Plan enrollment opens April 1

The Department of Community Health has announced open enrollment will begin for the Healthy Michigan Plan on April 1. This long-awaited announcement is great news for Michigan’s low-income uninsured residents.

Starting next week, adults (ages 19-64) in families with incomes below 133% of the federal poverty level (up to $15,521 for an individual or $31,721 for a family of four) who are not currently eligible for Medicaid or Medicare, and not pregnant, will be able to apply for the comprehensive coverage offered by the Healthy Michigan Plan. Citizenship, or lawful admittance to the U.S., is also required.

Healthy Michigan Plan enrollment will be open all year long, unlike the Marketplace www.healthcare.gov, which has designated open enrollment periods and where the initial enrollment period will close on March 31.

Applications for HMP are available online (www.michigan.gov/mibridges or www.healthcare.gov), by phone, or in-person. For the fastest eligibility determination, the Department is advising applicants to use the MIBridges system (www.michigan.gov/mibridges) where eligibility determinations may be returned in a matter of minutes. Department of Human Services local offices are expected to extend their hours to accommodate those who would like to apply in person.

This program is Michigan’s expansion and modification of the Medicaid program as provided in the Affordable Care Act. It is a credit to Michigan policymakers who passed legislation creating the program and permitting Michigan to accept the federal funds available for this program. Numerous states have refused to accept the federal funds to expand Medicaid, leaving their lowest-income residents uninsured and with no options.

Recognizing the low incomes of the enrollees, the HMP includes comprehensive benefits which may not otherwise be available to this population including dental, hearing, and vision benefits in addition to the services required by the ACA. Enrollees will be required to pay co-pays for some services and those with incomes between 100% ($11,670 for an individual, $23,850 for a family of four) and 133% FPL will be required to pay an income-based contribution of 2% for their coverage. Together, the payments cannot exceed 5% of the family income. Participation in healthy behaviors will provide the opportunity to reduce both the income-based payment and the co-pays.

A fact sheet is available on the League’s website for more information.

The implementation of the Healthy Michigan Plan provides the opportunity for those who work, are least paid and uninsured to gain healthcare coverage and peace of mind.

– Jan Hudson

Constitutional amendment: misguided and reckless

A resolution passed by the Michigan House on Thursday calling for a federal balanced budget amendment is misguided and reckless. While a balanced budget amendment may seem appealing on the surface, it would create serious challenges for our economy while threatening the U.S. Constitution.

Requiring a balanced federal budget would threaten critical services such as schools, highways, public safety and more in our state. Michigan has already experienced a decade of cuts in education, local communities and roads. We cannot afford to lose federal dollars that are helping us invest in the important engines of our economy.

Michigan’s recovery from the Great Recession has been slow and painful for many, and a balanced budget requirement would make future recessions longer and deeper. We know that when the economy is struggling and people are losing their jobs that tax revenues fall quickly. But at the same time, the need for supports such as food assistance, Medicaid and unemployment benefits spikes. If the federal government was forced to cut services to align with lower revenues during a recession, it would mean cutting back just when need is at its peak and when the economy needs support.

In addition to the impact on our state and its economy, our federal economy would be at risk. The highly respected forecasting firm Macroeconomics Advisers has said that a balanced budget amendment would be “catastrophic” for the national economy.

A resolution calling for a Constitutional Convention to adopt a balanced budget amendment would bring great turmoil to our country. Once such a convention is called, its delegates could propose changing our Constitution in any way. We would quite literally be throwing our Constitution open to whomever are selected as delegates and,  despite what the proponents say, there is simply no way to predict what might come out of a Constitutional Convention.

And it should be noted that seniors would be especially hard hit under a balanced budget requirement. Social Security and other programs that retirees depend on would be in jeopardy. With a balanced budget amendment, the government could only spend what it collects that same year, not money that has been collected in the past and saved for a specific purpose. That means that Social Security could not draw down its reserves from previous years to pay benefits now, and so could be forced to cut benefits.

This resolution was passed by the House in a different version than what was passed by the Senate, meaning that the Senate will have to vote on the House version. Please contact your senator and ask your senator to reject this dangerous amendment.

– Karen Holcomb-Merrill

 

 

Raise Michigan raises hope

The possibility of a long-overdue increase to Michigan’s minimum wage is on the horizon with the kickoff of the Raise Michigan campaign to put the issue before voters on the fall ballot.

If successful, it will raise Michigan’s $7.40 an hour wage minimum wage to $10.10 over three years and index it to inflation. It also includes a gradual increase of the $2.65/hour “tipped” wage for restaurant servers.

With so many problems to report on – rising income inequality, growing number of low-income working moms and shrinking windows of opportunity for our young people – it’s good to be able to talk about a positive solution.

Raising the wage would reduce the state’s poverty rate, decrease reliance on state assistance and boost local economies.

An increase would boost the incomes of nearly 1 million Michigan workers. Despite oft-repeated statements from opponents to the contrary, only 13% of that group are teens. Most are 20 and over and many are parents. In fact, 15% of all children in the state have a parent earning the minimum wage.

The proposal will index it to inflation. Without indexing, the minimum wage loses purchasing power over time. Since 1968, the minimum wage has lost more than 30% of its value, despite a few increases along the way.

Make sure to stay informed on this important development. There’s much work ahead – the campaign has until May 28 to collect nearly 259,000 valid signatures and there will be many volunteer opportunities. Make sure to connect at www.raisemichigan.com.

– Gilda Z. Jacobs

EITC is perfect vehicle for the governor

From the League’s First Tuesday newsletter
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Gov. Rick Snyder unveils his fourth executive budget Wednesday and worthy of applause is the fact that he has rejected the across-the-board rollback of Michigan’s personal income tax.

The governor indicated in his State of the State address last month that he wants a tax cut but one that is targeted to working families — those “hardworking Michiganders who get up every day and pack their lunch and go to work.”

The good news is that there is a vehicle already in place to deliver exactly what the governor is seeking: the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit. As a new fact sheet from the League shows, the tax credit is one of Michigan’s most effective tools for supporting working families and reducing poverty.

Using the $100 million the Snyder administration has targeted for tax relief to increase the EITC would help the very workers the governor wants to help, and it would boost the economy. That could lift the EITC from 6% of the federal credit to 11% of the federal credit. For a working mom with four growing boys, like Paula Fekken of Traverse City, that would mean $300 more for car repairs and other necessities to keep her on the job.

A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities documents the benefits from state EITCs: They keep working parents on the job and children out of poverty.

Unfortunately, the income tax rollback is gathering steam in the Legislature with a Senate hearing. The tax cut fever is driven by higher-than-expected revenues, nearly $1 billion over three years. It’s a strong election-year temptation as GOP lawmakers look to defend their records for the damage done to working families and seniors in the Big Tax Shift of 2011.

Yet, as the League testified at the Senate hearing last month the income tax rollback disproportionately benefits upper-income households and threatens Michigan’s fragile recovery. In fact, $3 of every $5 would go to those in the top 20% of income.

Increasing the EITC or spending the higher-than-expected revenue to begin restoring Great Recession cuts to education and other key services would also be better economy-boosting routes than the across-the-board income tax cuts.

Either choice would help the governor reward hard-working folks in Michigan.

– Gilda Z. Jacobs

Priorities Michigan launch

Last week marked the launch of a new organization, Priorities Michigan, a civic engagement and education project aimed at changing the conversation around the state budget and promoting needed investment in public goods.

The Michigan League for Public Policy is proud to be a partner organization on this as we join with others to highlight the effects of over a decade of devastating budget cuts to schools, communities, higher education, infrastructure and human services. (more…)

War on Poverty: Part 2

From the League’s First Tuesday newsletter
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Today marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s now-famous State of the Union address that launched the War on Poverty:

“Unfortunately, many Americans live on the outskirts of hope — some because of their poverty, and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity.

While some pundits will undoubtedly seize the anniversary as an opportunity to wrongly declare the War on Poverty a failure, we should instead recommit to LBJ’s vision, as there is plenty of evidence that it worked. And what an incredible return on investment! (more…)

The kids are not all right

Whatever economic recovery has occurred in Michigan, it has not reached children and their families. Poverty continues to affect one of every four of the state’s youngsters. Over half a million of the children in Michigan lived in families with income below the federal poverty level ($18,000 for a single parent family of 3 and $22,000 for a family of four), according to this year’s annual Kids Count in Michigan overview of child well-being.

Economic security weakened in almost every county between 2005 and 2011, and the more affluent counties experienced the steepest increases: Oakland, Ottawa and Macomb counties saw their child poverty rates almost double over the trend period. (more…)

Unemployment drama redux

It is December again. Along with the annual holiday season comes what is beginning to feel like an annual drama: Congress approaching year’s end without reauthorizing long-term Unemployment Insurance benefits.

If Congress does not reauthorize Emergency Unemployment Compensation, up to 189,700 Michigan workers could lose benefits as they continue to look for jobs: 43,800 immediately, an additional 86,500 if their unemployment goes beyond 20 weeks before June 2014, and 59,400 more if they go beyond 20 weeks between July and December 2014. (more…)

A gift for the future

From the First Tuesday newsletter
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 The holidays are upon us, and I’d like to offer Michigan the gift that keeps on giving – 10 ways to invest in our future.

The generations that came before us knew what it took to build a Mighty Mac, freeways and strong universities. Yet today, when you hear about economic development, you often hear about tax cuts, not investments. We can’t cut our way to prosperity. We simply must pay it forward for future generations and give them the investments they need for a strong economy.

A recent report by Senior Policy Analyst Pat Sorenson offers 10 ways to invest in our economy. It’s the League’s gift for the future:

1.
Invest
In early childhood.
2. Make sure all kids get
a great education – and a diploma!
3. Make college affordable 4. Encourage good health
with access to physical and mental health treatment 5. Offer help
with basic needs to those who cannot work or who cannot find
a job. 6. Invest in community services to attract businesses and young
professionals. 7. Generate revenue by strengthening the personal income tax,
based on the ability to pay. 8. Make sure businesses pay their fair share 9. Bring sales tax
into the modern age by taxing services and Internet sales. 10. End ineffective tax breaks
and put funds
into what works.

Happy holidays, and make sure to sign up for our Dec. 9 policy forum!

– Gilda Z. Jacobs

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