State Senate finally passes Medicaid expansion, benefiting students and working families

After months of delay and political threats by Tea Party extremists, the state Senate on Tuesday narrowly passed a Medicaid expansion plan that will extend health care to about 400,000 low-income Michigan citizens.

MEA supports expanding Medicaid, as it will directly benefit low-income students and their families. After all, students can’t achieve their full potential in the classroom when their families are struggling with health care at home.

The state House in June passed Medicaid expansion legislation, which would allow Michigan to receive federal funding under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” House Bill 4714 sat dormant in the Senate as supporters and opponents waged a high-profile lobbying battle throughout the summer.

The Senate’s amended version, which passed 20-18 with 12 Democrats and eight Republicans voting in support, will now go to the House for final passage.

Importantly, the Senate did not have the two-thirds majority needed to give the legislation immediate effect. As a result, it will not take effect until late March 2014, instead of Jan. 1, unless another vote for immediate effect is taken. Gannett Newspapers reported Aug. 28 that the delay could cost Michigan taxpayers more than $600 million in lost funds.

“I'm glad we were able to move forward on this bill for the hundreds of thousands of people across Michigan who will now have access to health care along with the significant burden this will lift off our state's budget,” Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, said. “But it's disappointing that the Senate Republicans continue to hold this important legislation up, withholding health care for Michigan's citizens while costing the state millions of dollars.”

Lonnie Scott, executive director of citizens watchdog group Progress Michigan, said being one step closer to Medicaid expansion is “cause for celebration,” but added that Gov. Rick Snyder and Senate Republicans “don’t even deserve a pat on the back.”

“They deserve no credit for finally getting around to doing the job they were elected to do after months of dragging their feet,” Scott said. “In fact, their delay may cost Michigan upwards of $7 million per day if implementation doesn’t happen before Jan. 1. It is a great day for Michigan’s working families, but it will be an even better one when we have true leaders in the governor’s office and state Senate.”