by Anna Gustafson, Michigan Advance
Health care for Michiganders and people across the country is under attack by congressional Republicans who are supporting legislation that could end Medicaid coverage for as many as 1 million Michigan residents, Protect Our Care founder and Chair Leslie Dach said during a press call Thursday morning.
The Republican-led U.S. House passed the Limit, Save, Grow Act by a margin of 217-215 last week. The legislation would temporarily raise the country’s borrowing limit and cut spending by slashing key parts of President Joe Biden’s climate and tax law, which the Biden administration has said could put 21 million Americans – including about 930,000 Michiganders – at risk of losing their Medicaid coverage. The bill faces opposition in the Democratic-led U.S. Senate, and President Biden has vowed to veto if the legislation makes it to his desk.
“It’s just the latest salvo in the ongoing Republican war on health care that has included more than 50 attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” Dach, whose organization is a nonprofit that advocates for accessible and affordable health care across the country, said of the Republican-supported legislation that Democratic lawmakers have dubbed the “Default on America Act.”
Dach was joined on Thursday’s press call by U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Ann Arbor), U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Theo Braddy, the executive director of the National Council on Independent Living, a D.C.-based group that advocates for the rights of people with disabilities. All of those on the call denounced Republicans’ efforts to cut Medicaid benefits and said the result would be a disastrous drop in the number of people, including individuals with disabilities and those in nursing homes, able to access the health care they need to survive.
“Every American has the right to quality, affordable health care, period,” U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Ann Arbor) said during the press call. “When you’re sick, you should be able to go to the doctor. When you’re sick, you shouldn’t have to ask if you can afford your medicine.”
Medicaid is the nation’s public health insurance program that provides health coverage for about 85.2 million low-income adults, pregnant people and children nationwide. Approximately 60% of people on Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides Medicaid for low-income youth, are 26 years old or younger. About 3.2 million Michiganders – about one-third of the state’s population – are currently covered by some form of Medicaid, according to federal statistics.
Those numbers, advocates said, would be slashed under the Limit, Save, Grow Act passed by most House Republicans; four GOP lawmakers joined Democrats to vote against it: Andy Biggs of Arizona, Ken Buck of Colorado, Tim Burchett of Tennessee and Matt Gaetz of Florida.
“We say as a country we value our children; we should prove it by supporting and strengthening Medicaid,” Casey said Thursday. “We say we value people with disabilities. Well, if we believe that, we should prove it in a number of ways, including protecting Medicaid.
“Year after year, Republicans in the House and Senate voted and supported budgets that would cut Medicaid programs by tens of billions of dollars each and every time,” Casey continued. “The good news is we’ve stopped them every time.”
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.) said during a press conference last week that the Limit, Save, Grow Act “represents the most common sense, straightforward approach to addressing the spending problem that got us here as we confront the debt ceiling.”
The legislation raises the country’s $31.4 trillion borrowing cap by $1.5 trillion, or until March 31, 2024, whichever comes first, while reducing the federal deficit by a projected $4.8 trillion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The Biden administration and other Democratic elected officials said Congress must address the debt limit in a stand-alone bill and discussions around tax and spending policy should occur within the annual budget and appropriations process.
‘We cannot allow people to slip through the cracks’
The Limit, Save, Grow Act comes at a time when about 15 million Americans could lose their Medicaid coverage following the end of emergency pandemic benefits passed by Congress at the onset of COVID-19, advocates said Thursday.
Congress greenlit the Families First Coronavirus Response Act just after the pandemic began in 2020, which included requirements that state Medicaid programs keep recipients continuously enrolled until the COVID-19 public health emergency ends. In exchange for states being barred from dropping people from their Medicaid lists, the federal government provided additional Medicaid matching funds.
Over the course of the next couple of years, the number of people accessing Medicaid in Michigan grew by about 700,000 individuals, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). About 2.1 million Michiganders are now enrolled in the traditional Medicaid program, and another 1.07 million individuals in the state are part of the Healthy Michigan Plan, a Medicaid program provided through DHHS and authorized under the Affordable Care Act.
Now, about one-third of the state’s population are covered by some form of Medicaid – and they will all have to reapply for their benefits after Congress passed legislation allowing states to begin reviewing, and potentially removing, individuals from Medicaid coverage beginning April 1.
The nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency reported as many as 400,000 Michiganders could lose their Medicaid coverage under this review.
While some may be removed because they earn more than the federal cutoff for benefits, as many as seven million individuals across the country could lose their Medicaid health insurance solely because of red tape – such as if they didn’t know they needed to reapply, Dach said.
“Thankfully, the governors of Pennsylvania and Michigan are doing the best job they can to make sure their constituents maintain coverage, but in many states…states like Florida, Georgia and Texas, the picture is not as clear,” Dach said.
Dingell noted that Medicaid enrollees can find out when they will need to renew by at www.michigan.gov/MIBridges. From June 2023 through May 2024, Michiganders will receive letters informing them about how and when they need to reapply for Medicaid.
“We cannot allow people to slip through the cracks and lose critical coverage simply because they don’t have the right paperwork or don’t know what steps to take to work through the red tape,” Dingell said. “And it’s especially vital that individuals with disabilities have the support they need to navigate this challenging transition.”
We cannot allow people to slip through the cracks and lose critical coverage simply because they don’t have the right paperwork or don’t know what steps to take to work through the red tape.
– U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Ann Arbor)
DHHS said in a press release that Michiganders who no longer qualify for Medicaid will receive information about other affordable health care options available to them, including through healthcare.gov.
“MDHHS is strongly committed to ensuring Michiganders who are eligible for Medicaid coverage remain enrolled,” DHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel said in a statement provided to the Advance on Thursday. “More than three million Michiganders, including one million Healthy Michigan enrollees, have benefitted from keeping their Medicaid coverage without redeterminations on eligibility during the COVID-19 pandemic. MDHHS is preparing to assist residents who will be affected by changes in their coverage.”
Braddy, of the National Council on Independent Living, said during Thursday’s press call that a decline in Medicaid coverage would especially harm Black, Indigenous and other people of color with disabilities.
“The continued enrollment policy of the pandemic made it possible for people with disabilities to rely on Medicaid as their primary health care coverage and to get better, more consistent health care that resulted in better health care outcomes,” Braddy said. “States need to actively reach out to older adults and people with disabilities who may be disenrolled and work to connect them with other providers, such as managed care providers.”
Dingell and Casey both said they plan to fight any ongoing and future cuts to Medicaid and aim to grow, not slash, health coverage for both residents of their states and across the country.
“It’s important that people understand that Medicaid is the single largest payer of long-term care in this country,” Dingell said. “There are too many families that simply cannot afford it. … Until you’re dealing with a senior or someone with disabilities, you don’t understand. You’re not walking in the shoes of someone who’s desperate to take care of somebody that they love.”
This story was written by Anna Gustafson, assistant editor at the Michigan Advance, where this story first appeared.
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