LANSING — A Republican state senator has floated a bill to prevent the state from advertising or encouraging enrollment in the Healthy Michigan Plan, the state’s Medicaid expansion program.
But Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, told members of the Senate’s health policy committee last week that she revised the bill to clarify that she’s only seeking to stop the state from spending money on paid advertising.
“Nothing in this bill prevents state employees from discussing Healthy Michigan, or from providing information written or otherwise or providing it on a website to residents,” Schuitmaker said during testimony.
The distinction is important, in part because enrollment in Healthy Michigan has soared past expectations.
As of January, the program has 613,747 participants, up nearly 7,300 members from the month before. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services projected the program would enroll 320,000 people in the first year of the program, which ended in March, and eventually reach 470,000.
The state spends $2 million per year on advertising, half of which is federal money, a DHHS spokeswoman said. The remaining $1 million comes from the state’s roughly $10 billion general fund.
Some Republican senators questioned whether the funds could be better spent on other services within the Healthy Michigan program, rather than on advertising.
“Don’t you think this population has been educated enough?” state Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, asked DHHS administrators.
Even though enrollment has far surpassed expectations, enrollment fluctuates month to month, said Geralyn Lasher, DHHS’ external relations director. That’s because some people become newly income-eligible while others fail to file paperwork to determine continued eligibility or take jobs that have private coverage.
Frequent turnover requires constant education, Lasher said.
The committee didn’t vote on the bill. A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof said he doesn’t consider the bill a priority.
‘Gag order’ bill advances
The House elections committee approved changes to a new law that prevents municipalities and school districts from sending mass mailings about ballot proposals 60 days before an election.
House Bill 5219, introduced by Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, R-Alto, removes the 60-day limit and also would allow “factual and strictly neutral information concerning the direct impact of a local ballot question on a public body or the electorate, except if the communication can reasonably be interpreted as an attempt to influence the outcome of a local ballot question.”
Lyons was the sponsor of the original provision. Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill, but urged lawmakers to follow it up with clarifying legislation. That law was heavily criticized by Democrats and many county clerks and school districts across the state, which referred to it as a “gag law” that prevented them for providing the public with bais factual information on ballot issues such as millages.
On Friday, a federal district judge granted a preliminary injunction barring the state from enforcing the original law ahead of the March 8 election. The bill moves to the House for a vote.