Guest Column

Healthy Michigan is good for Kent County

March 25, 2016
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As a family medicine doctor in Belmont, it’s part of my practice to see families on a routine basis for yearly physicals. Even though we call these office visits physicals, they are really much more.

An annual health maintenance visit with a physician is a great opportunity to identify a potentially harmful illness or disease. It is also an opportunity to get immunizations updated, get reminders about health screenings that may be due and ask questions about exercise and diet.

But what about people who don’t have access to a primary care doctor?

So many of us are privileged enough to not need to think twice about making an appointment for our yearly physicals. We take for granted the ability to visit our physicians “just to be safe” when we have a virus.

For many people in Michigan, a trip to the doctor isn’t as simple as making a phone call. Without adequate health insurance, questions about access, cost and transportation may turn what seems like a simple thing into much more. But with the Healthy Michigan Plan, a family doesn’t have to worry about the financial burdens of prioritizing preventive care. And in the long run, it not only improves Michiganders’ health; it’s also saving Michigan’s taxpayers, citizens, small businesses and corporations money.

The Healthy Michigan Plan provides affordable health insurance for working adults earning less than $16,000 a year. Healthy Michigan works for our state, which is why 600,000 individuals have enrolled. In Kent County, 33,061 individuals have enrolled. These are individuals working in construction, landscaping, tourism, child care and similar jobs. The plan promotes accountability with these individuals, as well as helps them to be personally invested in their health.

And its effects go beyond the enrollees. What happens to hospitals when individuals receive care but can’t pay for it?

According to a University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation report on Healthy Michigan, uncompensated costs in Michigan reached $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2013. Without the plan, rural hospitals, in particular, would struggle as a result of these losses — and so would the surrounding communities.

In Kent County, there were 55,798 health care jobs in the second quarter of 2015, according to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. That means 55,798 local jobs could be at risk because of uncompensated costs. And that's not factoring in the restaurant, retail and service jobs that rely on local hospitals and providers for business.

Who else is affected? Uncompensated costs also result in higher insurance premiums for individuals who do have insurance.

The Healthy Michigan Plan allows hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds to flow into our state and saves the state budget $220 million annually. This is because Healthy Michigan brings funds for critical state services previously paid with state funds, such as community mental health care.

Healthy Michigan has demonstrated success; now we need to protect it.

We need to protect the human resources and fiscal investment we’ve already put forward.

We need to protect the ability to have easy access to annual health maintenance visits to prevent many of the diseases that plague our county.

We need to protect the family in Flint facing years of uncertainty and care.

We need to protect the hospital down the road at which you spent countless hours while your mother was sick, as well as its staff who are committed to serving the people in their communities. The local health care workers are committed to help each patient who walks through the door of their community hospital.

The health care systems and hospitals in our Michigan communities are often the main economic backbone of a small city or town.

Many of the businesses in the area are directly or indirectly providing services for the hospital, the hospital workers, and the patients and families who go there. We also need to protect the sandwich shops, drive-thru and convenience stores near the hospitals that may not be able to stay in business if the hospital struggles.

These hospitals, and the hundreds of good-paying jobs within, are one critically important factor for a robust economy.

We need to protect the health of all of Michigan’s citizens and businesses. Healthy Michigan lets us do both.

Rose Ramirez is a Kent County family physician and president of Michigan State Medical Society

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