Health care town hall

State-level activism could be key to continued coverage

Having pre-existing conditions covered is one of the hallmarks of the Affordable Care Act. That act and other health care matters were discussed at a Saturday town hall at the University Center at Northern Michigan University. Shown is a rally held in February in Washington, D.C., in support of the ACA. (Journal stock image)

MARQUETTE — A Saturday town hall on health care hosted by the Marquette County Democrats featured officials from that political party, but much of the discussion was non-partisan.

Speaking at the University Center at Northern Michigan University were State Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, health care policy expert Charles Gaba of downstate Bloomfield Hills and Sara Cambensy, Marquette city commissioner and Democratic nominee for the State House seat for the 109th District.

“A lot of people don’t realize that when we passed our version of the Affordable Care Act, we did it on a couple different fronts,” Greig said. “We expanded eligibility through Medicaid, and we called that program Healthy Michigan.

“And through that, 660,000 people that weren’t previously for health benefits were now eligible under Healthy Michigan.”

Also, some of the provisions of the ACA, such as essential health benefits and no caps on lifetime benefits, were put into law in Michigan, and they cover all people under private insurance, she said.

Michigan State Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, talks at a Saturday town hall at the University Center at Northern Michigan University. She stressed the importance of being informed and active on health care issues at the state level. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

“Regardless of what is to happen at the federal level, we already have a lot of these protections in our laws here in Michigan,” Greig said. “So, what we’re trying to do on a legislative level is to educate our residents that it’s not just a federal issue.

“There are things you can advocate to your legislators and to your governor today to stand up and say we want to make sure that health care is accessible and affordable to everyone here in Michigan. Don’t turn back the clock.”

The cost of health care was a big issue at the town hall.

“Why are our prescription drug prices going up and up and up?” Greig said.

Cambensy has first-hand knowledge of how expensive medical care can be.

She has been a type 1 diabetic for 30 years, relying on, among things, an insulin pump — an $8,000 piece of equipment.

The insulin she’s been on for almost the last 20 years has skyrocketed in price from $20 per vial, which would last her about a month, to $400.

“So, I’m very aware of what we’re talking about today,” Cambensy said. “I’m living it.”

Although she has insurance now through her job with Marquette Area Public Schools, she pointed out it costs the insurance and medical industries a lot less money if she’s in good health as opposed to her finding medical care alone.

A bill to stop price gouging will be put forth in September, according to Greig, with a proposal to create a commission at the state level where a pharmaceutical company — if it goes beyond a certain price level — has to prove its case to the commission.

“We can’t rely on the federal government anymore, unfortunately,” Greig said. “The states have to take matters into their own hands. We have to look at how to better provide health care services to our residents, all while protecting the provisions that we have.”

Even though the Repeal and Replace initiative, advocated by President Donald Trump, is off the table now at the federal level, that doesn’t mean the current ACA is safe. Through the budget process, the federal government could decide to send less money down to the states, she said.

“And if that happens, there’s going to be a lot of discussion of changing those Michigan laws to reduce the eligibility or the coverage levels for our residents,” Greig said.

Cambensy also has fears along those lines, noting that people with drug addictions need funding for medical care and lose hope when “people don’t care about them.”

Gaba operates ACASignups.net, which tracks enrollments for the ACA.

He said that back in 2009, about 16 percent of U.S. residents had no health insurance.

The individual market also left something to be desired, considering few regulations existed about what could be covered. In fact, he pointed out that people could have been denied coverage completely, particularly if they read those dreaded words: “pre-existing condition.”

“It made it so that insurance companies could no longer discriminate against people based on their medical condition,” Gaba said of the ACA.

Since 2009 there’s been a net increase of about 21 million covered nationally, Gaba noted, with about two-thirds coming from Medicaid expansion and the rest from the individual market.

Statewide, about 935,000 people are covered either through Medicaid or through an exchange, he said.

An exchange is a health insurance marketplace that facilitates the purchase of insurance in each state in accordance with the ACA.

In Marquette County, that number is approximately 6,300, he said.

Gaba acknowledged that some people just pay the penalty instead of a more expensive ACA premium.

That can be a problem.

“If you’re going to have a penalty, it should be at least basically as much as the policy costs, or close to it,” Gaba said.

He acknowledged, though, that would be politically difficult to achieve.

Greig said one of the ACA’s goals is to move toward a more preventative model.

“Over time, that would reduce the cost of health care too, but we’ve got to have everyone participate it to get there quicker,” said Greig, who added another benefit to society would be a shift away from employer-linked health benefits.

“We’ve got to really change the way we insure people and make sure they get great health care, and that’s a very, very difficult thing to do,” Greig said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.