Senate Bill 542 would prohibit a state agency from using Michigan tax dollars to advertise or otherwise encourage enrollment in the Healthy Michigan plan. The legislation was introduced by Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, on Oct. 6, and has been sitting in the Senate Health Policy Committee for more than four months.

“Healthy Michigan,” is the title the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder gave to its adoption of the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. During the expansion debate in 2013, it was estimated that somewhat more than 400,000 people in Michigan would eventually enroll in the program. According to the most recent numbers, however, nearly 600,000 have enrolled so far.

Even though enrollment has far outstripped expectations, the state budget still authorizes spending $2 million annually to continue promoting the program. Of that, $1 million comes from Michigan taxpayers and the balance from federal matching funds.

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“Why spend $2 million annually to promote a program that has already met and far exceeded the number of people that were expected to enroll in it?” Schuitmaker asked. “We’ve seen nothing to indicate there are metrics showing that continued advertising would accomplish anything. At this point, there’s no reason to believe it is needed. I think it’s obvious that that funding could be better used for something else.”

According to Schuitmaker, Senate Bill 542 has stalled because it might not be the most promising way of putting a stop to the advertising.

“The committee chair and I have been batting around the idea of putting it (the language prohibiting the advertising) in an appropriations bill,” Schuitmaker said.

In addition to being chair of the Senate Health Policy Committee, Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, is also one of the bill's co-sponsors.

“The intent of the legislation Sen. Schuitmaker introduced is very legitimate,” Shirkey said. “I, too, question the need to advertise Healthy Michigan for the purpose of increasing enrollment. I’ve talked with officials involved with the program and the sense is that we’ve pretty much topped out as far as enrollment is concerned; the levels have remained more or less constant for quite a while now.”

“That said; I also understand that everyone does not have the same access to information regarding all aspects of Healthy Michigan,” Shirkey continued. “We have talked about attempting to put something into appropriations legislation that would allow advertising that pertains to Healthy Michigan for utilitarian purposes within the program, but specify that advertising should not be directed toward increasing enrollment.”

Among the possible advantages of having the language put into an appropriations bill is that it would insert the issue directly into the appropriations process. That would mean that the state budget would reflect the Legislature's intent for the advertising. In addition, it is often more difficult politically to vote against an entire appropriations bill than it is to vote against a single-topic bill, such as Senate Bill 542.

Snyder’s Deputy Press Secretary Laura Biehl was asked about the prohibition.

“As with all legislation, the governor will review the bill if it reaches his desk,” Biehl said.


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Obamacare repeal-and-replace is underway, and regardless of whether it passes or fails big, changes are coming for Michigan’s medical services and insurance industry, and the state’s social welfare system, especially Medicaid.

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