Legislative Health Plan Is No Salvation

February 2, 2004
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It is rewarding for the creative business minds in Muskegon and Kent counties to receive the ultimate form of flattery from not only Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm but from across the country, that of copying a good plan — a good health plan, that is, a service area in dire need of creative solutions. But the Access Health plan the governor seeks to emulate is a creative solution to a system that’s broken. Time is of the essence and government staffing at the local and state levels is in shorter supply as budget cuts continue. The real effort is best spent to fix what’s broken.

Granholm highlighted the three-tier health plan conceived by Muskegon Community Health in her State of the State speech last week, and has eager support from both Republicans and Democrats to create such programs in all areas of Michigan, changing it only to provide for the unique characteristics of individual areas.

The plan uses a combination of Medicaid funding and low-cost monthly premiums paid by employers and employees. It has afforded health care insurance coverage for both groups, which would otherwise be uninsured because the employer is unable to afford a benefit package. Offering such a plan in every quadrant of the state, however, may also have the unintended consequence of pulling groups from the “pool” and further inflating costs. The health care benefit industry has precisely calculated how many younger (and therefore generally healthier) workers it needs in such a “pool” to offset the cost of older workers who may have age-related health issues. Creating another government plan for health care is as bad an idea as declining payments under Medicaid, another cost shift that further fuels the reasons for the big problem of unabated cost increases for benefits paid by employers.

Michigan business owners may not yet understand the shock still coming in enormous health benefit increases this year, the result of legislation approved last year in the reform of Blue Cross Blue Shield payment structure (and its resulting tidal wave in the industry).

Once those bills are received, most Michigan businesses are likely to find such insurance unaffordable and as such become applicants for the new state/region program.

The creative answer in Muskegon and the subsequent creation of such a plan in Kent County is an acknowledged Band-Aid, and one that has worked well. Even Alliance for Health Executive Director Lody Zwarensteyn, a co-creator of the Kent Plan, notes it’s “something” rather than “nothing” to help get people the care they need.

Another 20 counties in Michigan already are developing such three-tier plans, but they, too, may be unprepared for the escalation of costs that will see ink this year.

The gleeful embrace of the plan by legislators is another example of Lansing’s quick fixes that exacerbate rather than resolve the big problems. Access Health is a good plan doing what it intended with its limited intended audience. It is not salvation for an enormous problem.          

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