Granholms Health Plan: Shenanigans

March 5, 2004
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Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s plan to raise the cigarette (and possibly liquor) tax by 75 cents is not much of an issue either for the general constituency or the business community. But her plan to earmark $30 million of the $295 million in revenue for smoking cessation programs should be given the weight of law, especially when one considers that the $6 billion in tobacco settlement funds sent to the state was used for anything but health initiatives. Such additional revenue, however, is likely best used for Medicaid reimbursement in view of state cuts, which so badly damaged hospital bottom lines that business was socked again by hospital cost-shifting.

The long history of government’s incredible appetite for taxation is nothing new, nor is its money shuffling. To our knowledge, the only government to have ever provided a tax decrease (or freeze) was the city of Holland, which has done so for the past 10 years. Growth in the city’s SEV provided such opportunity, but with a half-million-dollar loss in state revenue sharing, it is not likely to continue.

Granholm correctly identifies Michigan’s poor health record as an impediment to business as it translates to ever-rising health-care premiums. It is well and good that the governor wants to combat poor health choices from her bully pulpit. But one cannot take her concern — for business or citizen health — seriously. Granholm has asked Michigan Surgeon General Kimberlydawn Wisdom to coordinate health initiatives focusing on physical activity, obesity, smoking and teen pregnancy. First, in such tough budget times, one has to ask why Michigan needed to pay the salary of a first-ever surgeon general. Second, such programs are likely to be marketing and advertising campaigns, which duplicate those already provided by businesses.

Blue Cross Blue Shield has made a tremendous effort to educate consumers about the cost and quality of generic drugs. Most health insurance businesses have provided such information to their customers. BCBS also has backed an ongoing campaign with Ernie Harwell specifically targeting Michigan’s older adults, educating them about the health benefits of walking and about stroke and heart disease.

It’s been several years since Spectrum Health introduced a physical fitness program to its employees, as have many other businesses. Amway Grand Plaza employees, for instance, are given incentives to join a fitness facility.

We might applaud continued efforts to educate Michigan residents about the cost — to everyone in the payment of health-care bills and insurance premiums — but businesses are 10 years ahead of any government initiative. Once again, we would advocate that state government teach state employees about the true cost of health care, in the same way that businesses have been forced to “educate” the private sector work force. Quit footing the bill, and share the costs. Reinstate full Medicaid payments and at true cost. The proposals are nothing more than shenanigans and an attempt to appear to be “doing something” about the health-care crisis.    

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