Health care access in state scrutinized

February 6, 2011
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LANSING — Access to affordable health care remains a problem in Michigan.

Advocacy groups are looking at ways to improve access to affordable health care and offer contrasting opinions on whether current laws are enough.

Gov. Rick Snyder briefly mentioned health care in his State of the State address, emphasizing wellness programs and preventive care.

“All of our citizens need access to preventive care from primary care providers,” Snyder said. “We will look to build a system that encourages all of us to have an annual physical to reduce obesity and encourage a healthier, active lifestyle in our state.”

Rob Fowler, Small Business Association of Michigan president, calls health care one of the biggest issues affecting small business owners and says the 2010 federal law fails to address a key problem for employers: “It doesn’t deal with the cost.”

According to Fowler, the law makes it more difficult for small businesses to purchase health insurance because it’s caused prices to rise.

Fowler said that another flaw in the federal law is that it may be cheaper for some employers to pay a penalty than to provide insurance coverage.

However, a recent report by the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan said repeal of the federal law would increase costs by 14 to 20 percent and that more than 125,000 small businesses in Michigan would lose tax credits that can cover up to 35 percent of their health care costs.

PIRGIM, which is based in Ann Arbor, recommended steps that Michigan could take “which the federal law failed to take to address our health care issues.”

Like SBAM, it suggested more electronic record keeping, saying, “Accelerating greater administrative streamlining and reducing health care paperwork can lower costs for consumers, providers and insurers.”

The report called for more state-level support for medical research and “limiting the worst marketing practices of the drug and medical device industries,” which it said would make medical treatments “more affordable.”

The Michigan League for Human Services, another advocacy group, said Michigan ranked first among the states in the number of people who lost employer-sponsored health care between 2000 and 2009 — more than 1 million people.

“Thousands of residents have gained new coverage or peace of mind from provisions of the law that have been implemented,” league President Gilda Jacobs said. “Hundreds of thousands more will gain coverage by 2014 when the federal law is fully implemented.”

Lary Wells, chief operating officer of the league, said that the organization would like Michigan to work with the federal government to expand access to health care.

“We would like to see a working system that includes the uninsured without forcing them to use a very expensive emergency room,” Wells said.

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