Business Big Loser In Health Care Power Shift

November 24, 2004
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The "Silly Season," generally known in the state legislature as the "Lame

Duck" session, is often costly — especially to businesses — and this session appears to be no different. State Sen. Ken Sikkema made a recent media tour warning of the impact of this session, as well as making very public his call for an early revenue estimating conference. Sikkema is adamant about making budget repairs sooner rather than later, believing that the state cannot meet its budget with what he rightly expects to be further declines in revenue. Such is of great concern during the Silly Season because loophole spending is often attached to appropriations bills. While Sikkema travels the state demanding the revenue estimating conference, he shrugs off the Silly Season saying it shouldn't happen, but he is (apparently) unable to stop such amendments even as Senate Majority leader.

One of the most appalling "deals" awaiting attachment would completely eliminate local decisions providing input under the state Certificate of Need process, an unprecedented shift to give all decision authority to state department bureaucrats. We have not yet met a bureaucrat concerned or informed about the escalation of health-care benefit costs to business.

The business community has been very active with testimony and local public hearings in the CON process, and in support of the current state rules. The process is supported by consumer, hospital and labor groups as well, because the Michigan process has proven to be one that keeps increases below those experienced in states without such a process. The most demonstrative testimony came from the Big Three automakers in analysis of their respective health-cost data. Independently all three found costs were consistently lower in CON states vs. non-CON states. Steelcase (and several other area businesses) has indicated that health-care costs are putting additional pressure on the economic recovery.

Some of the state's most legendary Silly Season beneficiaries happen to be in east Michigan. It is, therefore, no surprise to learn that the biggest beneficiaries of changes in CON process include Henry Ford Hospital and St. John Hospital, both seeking to build new facilities in West Bloomfield and Novi, respectively.

The Alliance for Health, which has local responsibility for CON procedures in West Michigan, indicates in recent communication that, "Much of the issue centers around wrangling by southeast Michigan hospitals to be able to build new facilities in areas with richer payer mixes, despite hospital occupancy of approximately 50 percent, and despite the fact that the costs of excess capacity are paid by everyone throughout the state."

During the recent Alliance for Health Hillman Commission reunion, which recalled this business community's cost-saving initiatives that led to the merger of Blodgett and Butterworth as well as Saint Mary's and the former Kent Oaks Hospital, Jeff Padnos, of Padnos Iron & Metal Co., made a point of the continued rise of health-care benefits. He estimated that the cost to manufacturing employers is more than $5 per hour, per person, and added, "The costs are threatening our ability to provide health coverage."

Legislative proposals for an unprecedented shift in power away from knowledgeable local groups to Lansing civil servants is the height of insult and a grave day, as business owners are robbed of one more weapon in the battle against rising costs by elected officials.    

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