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MichUHCAN Newsletter for February, 2000

State Senator Discusses Legislative Prognosis

In January, Alma Wheeler Smith, state senator from Washtenaw County, attended the Detroit Chapter meeting.

Senator Smith described several "baby steps" that the state legislature has taken to improve health care access. These include expanded rights to continued care after leaving a health plan, a requirement that boards that make benefit decisions include physicians, and the right to direct access to a pediatrician for children enrolled in HMOs. Bills addressing mental health parity-requiring that mental health benefits be as good as those for physical health-are likely to be discussed soon.

Meanwhile, the state legislature is responding to hospitals' and HMOs' complaints about the Medicaid budget cuts of a few years ago. When the state privatized Medicaid in 1997 by requiring all recipients to join private HMOs, legislators agreed to pay the HMOs only 85% of the amount the state was spending per patient. But, says Alma Wheeler Smith, the state had been efficient as a Medicaid insurer; the coverage could not be provided for that much less.

As a result, HMOs have lost money on the Medicaid program. Insurers have in turn squeezed hospitals by negotiating lower payments, disputing charges, and sometimes failing to pay for covered care in a timely manner. In the next budget, says Senator Smith, the state will likely increase its reimbursements to Medicaid HMOs and provide funding to pay hospitals directly for emergency care that Medicaid HMOs dispute.

Senator Smith plans to re-introduce the MichiCare single payer bill, understanding that it will not be passed, but knowing that the issues it raises must be discussed.

News Bits

Drug companies said in January that they wouldn't oppose adding drug coverage to Medicare, as they did when President Clinton proposed the coverage last year. But, said pharmaceutical executives, they want any such coverage to come through private insurers. That way the Medicare program would not be in a position, as a huge customer, to hold down prescription prices.

In step with a national trend, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan is raising its rates for small businesses by an average of 25%. Blues officials blame the increases on growing pharmaceutical costs and increased physician office visits. Observers fear employers will raise co-payments or drop coverage, adding to the state's number of uninsured.

Mercy Hospital on Detroit's east side will close as of March 1. Parent company Mercy Health Services says the hospital lost too much money on caring for Medicare, Medicaid, and uninsured patients. About 1,300 employees will be laid off due to the closure.

A study of young workers commissioned by the AFL-CIO, and conducted by Peter D. Hart Associates, found that among working people aged 18-34, only 51% of whites have employer-provided health care. Only 39% of young Latinos do, and only 36% of African Americans.

Detroit Chapter Mtg:

Thurs Feb 3, 7:30pm

Putting Health Care on the National Agenda

The U2K project for raising the profile of single payer this year. (See "U2K and You" below.)

Place: First United Methodist Church of Berkley

12 Mile Road, two blocks west of Coolidge; park in the lot on the west side; enter from Kipling, east side.

U2K and You

The MichUHCAN U2K project is starting with first things first. The strategy is to get a substantial number of organizations to endorse a statement in favor of truly universal, affordable, quality care.

Our planning committee decided to start by recruiting the "easy" targets first. Members are asked to think about organizations you know, perhaps churches or community groups in your neighborhood. And then to help the committee get in touch and talk with those groups about U2K and the goal of national single-payer health care.

The education handbook from the national U2K Campaign has been posted on the MichUHCAN web site under the heading of "politics." Paper copies of this material are also available from Ed Pintzuk for 25 cents each (a penny a page, to cover costs).

Bring your ideas to the February meeting!

The Angels of Lemnos

A comedy among the homeless, by Jim Henry

A fundraiser for Detroit MichUHCAN

Sunday, April 9, 2pm (curtain), 1 pm (hors d'oeuvres)

Detroit Repertory Theatre

Tickets $15 in advance; talk to a MichUHCAN member or contact Doug Merenda (313-893-7435)