At ACCESS, the largest Arab American community nonprofit in the U.S., we were excited to see Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announce that she will seek to mitigate the loss of health care coverage as the state prepares to implement new work requirements for many Michiganders in the Healthy Michigan Plan.
As healthcare providers, we see thousands of people covered through the Healthy Michigan Plan, the state’s expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. We know the names and faces of those most at risk because of new regulations that require certain Medicaid beneficiaries to prove they are working, trying to find work or undergo training — or risk losing their coverage.
Among the stories we have heard at ACCESS is that of Matthew, a 33-year old construction worker from Taylor. In 2016 he became inexplicably ill, which led to him losing his job. Uninsured and unemployed, Matthew was not able to visit the doctor, until he applied for and received Medicaid coverage at ACCESS. Two months later, he was diagnosed with HIV. Coverage allowed him to get the treatment he needed and rebuild his life after unemployment. Today, Matthew is employed and healthy.While work reporting requirements were debated in the Michigan Legislature, the effects were purely speculative. However, with these requirements implemented in Arkansas, we’ve seen 18,000 individuals and counting lose their coverage — and with it, access to needed care and medications. A new report released this month estimates that more restrictive requirements will cause 61,000 and 183,000 Michiganders to lose their coverage under the Healthy Michigan Plan in the first year alone.
We’ve already seen what this lack of supports can do to our community’s most economically distressed with lack of sufficient funds for outreach and enrollment of federal nutritional and temporary finance assistance programs, SNAP and TANF during the last two years.
To find and retain gainful employment, one must first be healthy. Residents who have lost a job, work irregular hours or have often-changing schedules should not have their access to medication or care stripped from them. The effect of punishing these individuals would only be to leave them sicker and less able to work.
We’ve made great strides in covering the health and economic needs of our state’s low-income residents. A University of Michigan survey of Healthy Michigan enrollees shows the plan has greatly increased primary care usage among those surveyed, and reduced their dependence on emergency room care.
Meanwhile, the plan has cut uncompensated care that hospitals are obligated to provide by 50% and added jobs to Michigan’s economy.
We thank Gov. Whitmer and her administration for their commitment to working within the law to prevent undue burden to Michiganders, many of whom are ACCESS clients. By working together, we can ensure a healthier Michigan for all.
Farah Erzouki, MPH is public health manager at Dearborn-based ACCESS Community Health and Research Center.