Engler Aborts One Mandate For Health Care

May 7, 2002
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LANSING – Gov. John Engler vetoed one of two bills last week passed by Michigan lawmakers last month that would affect the health care benefits employers can offer their workers.

The governor killed the one that would have required employers to buy a supplemental policy to provide elective abortion coverage. The other would direct insurers to include a policy that would pay for the drugs and supplies of employees diagnosed with diabetes as part of a company’s basic plan. Engler hadn’t acted on the diabetes bill as of last week.

In rejecting the abortion coverage bill, Engler said “persistent questions were raised about administration, enforcement, cost and constitutionality of this legislation which were not adequately addressed.” He returned the abortion package to the Legislature, an indication that he may be willing to work with lawmakers on a new version.

Prior to the governor’s action last week, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce urged Engler to veto the diabetes bill.

The Michigan Manufacturers Association also fears that the diabetes coverage could adversely affect a benefits package an employer offers because of a potential cost increase passed on to them by insurers in order to pay for prescription drugs and other supplies.

MMA President and CEO John W. “Mac” MacIlroy was also concerned that a Republican-controlled Legislature was presenting the private sector with directives.

“MMA has received assurances that this mandate, which is the first in more than a decade, will not open the floodgates to additional health care mandates,” he said.

But Republican Rep. Alan Sanborn said he was disappointed that his party, the one of lesser government is better government, was telling employers what should or shouldn’t be in their health care packages.

“The House has not passed mandated coverage in the last 12 years. I find it very unusual that a Republican-controlled House would start the mandate wheel rolling again,” he said.

Sanborn, a Richmond lawmaker, proposed an alternative bill that would have given diabetics state tax credits for their drug and supply purchases. He claimed that lawmakers didn’t spend enough time debating the potential impact the bills would have on insurance rates before they voted.

Senator Ken Sikkema, however, felt Michigan lawmakers did the right thing when they approved both measures. The Grandville Republican told the Business Journal that coverage for diabetic supplies would bring down the overall cost of health care for employers.

“The evidence is just overwhelming. If you cover the equipment and medications that diabetics need, the up-front costs of doing that saves horrendous costs later on because of the implications that diabetes leads to hearts attacks, strokes and kidney disease,” he said.

Sikkema said the cost-saving evidence was so clear that the Republican-dominated Senate made the diabetes bills a priority. He then criticized the belief that mandates automatically raise costs.

“The mantra of no mandates because all mandates increase health care costs is an overly broad statement. You have to look at what you’re talking about,” he said. “In a Republican legislature, we would never have passed a diabetes mandate if that [the cost savings] weren’t true.”

As for the abortion coverage bill, Sikkema felt it was a public policy issue, just one of many that government regulates, and that lawmakers didn’t exceed their authority there, either.

“The legislature regulates health care. It regulates the insurance industry. It regulates HMOs. All to an incredible extent, so this isn’t unique,” he said. “There is nothing about diabetes or the abortion issue that is unique in terms of regulation.”

Nor did Sikkema feel that his party was following someone else’s orders.

“If anything, this points out that there is disagreement in the Republican ranks,” he said of criticism from party members.

“This accusation that Republicans just wake up in the morning and get our marching orders from the Chamber of Commerce and we do their bidding, obviously that isn’t true because the Michigan Chamber of Commerce was adamantly opposed to the diabetes law.

“So, if anything, this should tell you that a Republican legislature decides its own course. We don’t take directions from anybody,” he added.

Sen. John Schwarz, R-Battle Creek, sponsored one of the bills on diabetes coverage. Schwarz, also a doctor, said there were more than 400,000 diagnosed diabetics in Michigan and an estimated 200,000 who haven’t been diagnosed yet.           

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