July 1, 2013 | Vol. 94, No. 153

Medicaid mire

Casperson: Big decision ahead on expansion bill

IRONWOOD — There's a tough decision ahead for Michigan legislators on health care, State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, said Friday.

Speaking at a town hall meeting at Gogebic Community College, he said a special session of the legislature may be called on the Medicaid expansion bill.

“We may go back this summer to vote on it,” he said.

State Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, said he opposes the bill and voted against it in its current form because it would require people making under $15,000 to “pay $1,200 out of their pockets” for health care and he doesn't believe they can afford that much.

Dianda said he hoped the Senate would improve on the legislation.

Casperson said the legislation has been billed as helping the “working poor” in the state. The program currently only covers adults if they are pregnant, disabled, elderly or caring for children or a disabled person.

“Some argue it's an expansion of Obamacare,” Casperson said, but he said if the legislation isn't passed, it will give the feds more control regarding health care. “They'll still collect and spend it,” Casperson said.

It boils down to federal versus state control, he said. “It's emotionally charged both ways.” he added.

The bill would add as many as 470,000 people to Michigan’s Medicaid rolls.

The Medicaid expansion, part of the Affordable Care Act, will be covered 100 percent by the federal government through 2016, when Michigan will gradually begin to contribute, reaching a maximum contribution of 10 percent in 2020.

Casperson and Dianda also discussed what they said is an essential piece of the puzzle to reviving the economy of the Upper Peninsula, namely electricity.

Casperson said the U.P. “is at the end of the cord” and a connection with lower Michigan is being discussed.

He noted one lower Michigan power company was required to spend $700 million on new scrubbers to meet Environmental Protection Agency standards and bemoaned the fact those costs are passed on to consumers.

Dianda noted the Upper Peninsula Power Company is seeking an 8 percent rate increase.

Casperson said the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder “is taking (electrical) power very seriously.”

Casperson said he'd like to see the money that comes out of the Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund spent differently. Presently, 25 percent is awarded annually in grants and 75 percent is used for land acquisitions. He said he'd like to see those figures “flipped,” especially since so much land is being acquired by the state.

Casperson also said the Pure Michigan campaign should advertise all-terrain vehicle opportunities, snowmobiling and horse riding, all of which have been shut out. “They should have equal time,” he said.

Gogebic County Road Commission Engineer-Manager Darren Pionk complained about funding from the state. “We can't afford blacktopping and snowplowing anymore,” he said.

He said the road commission can't cut any additional employees and it needs more revenues.

“We’ve been taking heat,” Pionk said. He suggested funneling money to the county, and not getting the Michigan Department of Transportation involved as much, because of its high administrative costs.

Casperson said the 19-cent per gallon fuel tax has remained the same since 1996 and “nobody wants to touch it.”

Tom Hampston of Ironwood complained that the Ottawa National Forest has closed much of its land to ATV use.

Casperson said lawsuits are holding up many timber sales on the Ottawa and other national forests.

Near the end of the town hall session when Paul Grbavcich of Ironwood asked about the U.P. speed limit being raised, Casperson said a switch to 65 mph from 55 mph is under consideration.