We have bipartisan support for reducing health care costs
In this polarizing time, there are few things that most Americans — or Michiganders — can agree on in a bipartisan manner.
One of those things we do agree on, unfortunately, is that our health care system needs major improvements, as it is failing many Michigan residents via high out-of-pocket financial burdens and limited access to quality care.
A new survey from ALG Research and Michigan Researchers Associates Inc. (EPIC- MRA), on behalf of Consumers for Quality Care, reveals that voters see affordability and access to quality care as major issues in the state’s health care system.
The coronavirus pandemic put even more stress on our nation’s health care infrastructure and exposed serious flaws in the system for patients.
At the center of the issue is how much Americans are paying for health insurance.
In fact, 77% of Michiganders think the amount they are paying for health care is going up every year, and majorities are concerned about being able to afford high deductibles (74% concerned), getting a surprise medical bill (72%), or being able to afford their monthly premium (58%).
Among the Michiganders most affected by the high costs of health care are residents of color. For example, while more than a quarter of all voters have unpaid or overdue medical bills, that number jumps to one-third of all Black voters.
Another population in Michigan that has significant health care needs are immigrant families.
We have seen firsthand how the pandemic has contributed to increased health and financial needs and decreases in health coverage among our immigrant community members in Michigan. Many immigrants who are eligible for affordable health coverage remain uninsured because of enrollment barriers, including language and literacy challenges.
There also continues to be fear of previous changes to the public charge rule, even though those are no longer in effect and eligible families should feel confident accessing care. ACCESS and other community organizations serve as a safety net for many immigrants, while others often go without needed care.
More than 70% of both Democrats and Republicans polled support either maintaining or expanding the Healthy Michigan Plan, and 59% want Congress to make targeted fixes that build on the current system, rather than fundamentally transforming it.
As such, the conversation at state and federal levels should be on continuing and even expanding successful elements of Healthy Michigan and the Affordable Care Act — such as tax credits in the ACA Marketplace and a boost in access to mental health and substance use disorder services — to support more residents who desperately need it.
The Build Back Better plan — before Congress right now — seeks to reduce the public’s marketplace deductibles and other cost-sharing.
With 90% of Michigan voters saying they agree insurance deductibles should be low enough that they don’t get in the way of getting needed health care, there should be more policies like that that lower out-of-pocket costs and ensure insurance acts like insurance and is there when you need it.
There is also the issue of how Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Legislature will work together to use federal funding received as part of the American Rescue Plan to invest in health care for Michigan residents.
Gov. Whitmer — through the MI Healthy Communities plan — has proposed using the funds in a variety of ways, from increased mental health support to boosting funding for community-based services, substance use disorder treatment, autism intervention, telemedicine infrastructure, and more. She also proposed funding for much-needed health care infrastructure upgrades, and investing millions in local public health departments, community health workers, and community-building grants.
As that funding is debated and eventually dispersed throughout Michigan, the goal should be to focus spending on community-based efforts that will most positively impact the lives and health of Michigan residents still navigating the pandemic and the most glaring inadequacies of our current health care system — and should make our health insurance more affordable.
Alex Rossman is external affairs director for the Michigan League for Public Policy. Asraa Alhawli is Public Health Coordinator at ACCESS Community Health and Research Center.