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September 2013: Legislative Update

Medicaid Expansion Passes, but Without Immediate Effect

Medicaid coverage for more than 400,000 low income Michigan residents has been passed by both houses of the legislature and signed by the Governor.

However, partisan ideologues blocked immediate effect costing Michigan residents $630 Million and needless delay in getting needed health care. Because the Senate failed to give the bill immediate effect, the law won’t take effect until sometime around April 1, 2014. All 12 Senate Democrats voted for immediate effect, but 14 Republicans (Booher, Brandenburg, Caswell, Colbeck, Emmons, Green, Hune, Jones, Moolenaar, Nofs, Pavlov, Proos, Robertson and Schuitmaker) opposed the motion.

“The Senate Republicans’ partisan politics we’ve seen over this issue are trumping good public policy and fiscal responsibility,” said Whitmer. “The taxpayers are now on the hook for a $630 million hit to the state budget and a massive expense now looms over low-income individuals and families that they simply can’t afford.”

Said House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, “I am outraged that the Senate Republicans continued to play politics today with the lives of 400,000 Michiganders who currently have no insurance”

HB 4174 will extend Medicaid to cover individuals with income between 100 percent and 133 percent of the poverty level. A waiver from the federal government is necessary for parts of the bill to be implemented. Federal officials have indicated that the waiver is likely to be granted.

The new law will provide people access to getting routine check-ups or seeing a doctor instead of foregoing medical care or using an emergency room for common illnesses. Emergency rooms cost 6 times more than going to a primary care physician. The result? A healthier Michigan at lower medical costs than status quo.

It’s unfortunate political ideology takes precedence over people’s needs.

Unemployment Bills reported from House Commerce Committee

The House Commerce Committee has reported a package of six bills (HB 4949-54) dealing with a variety of unemployment issues, including the reversal of judicial decisions regarding repayment of benefits, drug tests and federal conformity requirements.

As originally introduced, there was a major problem with one of the bills in the package, HB 4949. That legislation sought to overturn several court rulings that limited the ability of the Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) to reverse an award of benefits and require repayment by laid off workers.

The bills call these “improper payments.” Many legislators are led to believe that “improper” equates to “fraud” and these payments should be recovered from the claimant. Actually they are typically caused by clerical or administrative mistakes by the UIA, inaccurate or tardy information supplied by an employer or their agent or a reversal by an appellate body. When the UIA seeks repayment in these situations, workers can suddenly find themselves in the position of being without a job, without unemployment benefits that the UIA had previously approved and saddled with an enormous debt that is beyond their ability to pay and likely uncollectable.

Democrats won amendments in committee, and the bill now requires the UIA to waive repayment in those cases where benefits were awarded because of a clerical or administrative error by the UIA, the failure of an employer to report or incorrectly report earnings information to the UIA or when the claimant is at or below the poverty level.

Another bill in the package, HB 4952, allows cutting off benefits to laid off workers who refuse to take or fail to pass a pre-employment drug test. The basic premise of the test requirement remains flawed. It doesn’t test impairment on the job. It only detects trace elements of a substance whose effect likely wore off before the individual showed up at work. The bill doesn’t define how the information about a pre-employment drug test result of a job applicant is conveyed to the UIA. A potential employer is not a party to a UI claim, since they haven’t employed the tested individual, yet their pre-employment test may be the reason the individual is cut off of benefits. Both the previous employer and the potential employer will likely be caught up in a large number of appeals, if not lawsuits, regarding test results. A similar bill was passed in Wisconsin and was quickly repealed as business owners were getting caught up in appeals for people they never employed.

The bills are on 2nd Reading in the House.

SB 358 Use of Unlicensed Electricians

Senate Reforms, Reinvention and Restructuring Committee reported SB 358, a bill that would remove a requirement that licensed electricians perform electrical work in manufacturing and mining. The bill places workers and the public in harms way opening the door to work site accidents and poor quality construction. The bill only requires a business employ one master electrician, who is not even required to be on a construction or manufacturing site. Working with electricity can be dangerous and should be done by trained and licensed professionals. Legislators whose goal, they claim, is to “reduce cost to business” should think twice about what they are proposing for Michigan. Contact your Senator to oppose this reckless bill.

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