Republican lawmakers want more questions answered before they’ll consider giving GOP Gov. Rick Snyder approval to start work on a website for purchasing health insurance required under the federal health care law, Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger said.
The GOP leader said House Republicans object to the law as “federal overreach” and that putting a health insurance exchange in place “would be our last option.” Bolger also said he appreciated that the federal government has set up sessions in August for states to learn more about the next steps available to them, and noted he has asked for a series of House committee hearings to get more answers on what the federal law requires.
The Republican-led Senate already has approved the health exchange, but the GOP-controlled House has balked. Senators aren’t up for re-election this fall, but many GOP House members worry that a vote in favor of the exchange could hurt them at the polls. At least one conservative group, Americans For Prosperity-Michigan, has sent campaign literature into more than 20 House districts trying to discourage lawmakers from approving the exchange.
The federal government could step in with its own exchange if Michigan hasn’t made progress by mid-November on setting up the online marketplace. Michigan officials are working on a state exchange but also are talking to federal officials about partnering on an exchange where the state handles just part of it. Snyder has been asking lawmakers since last fall to approve the exchange so a federal partnership wouldn’t be needed.
House Republicans, hoping the U.S. Supreme Court would strike the federal health care law down last month, initially blocked the Snyder administration’s efforts to tap $9.8 million in federal planning money for the exchange. But the court upheld most of the law.
Now, some GOP House members say any action on the exchange should be put off until November. If GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney wins the White House and Republicans capture the U.S. Senate, some parts of the federal health care law could be repealed.
The state can’t spend the federal money without legislative approval. Nor can it apply for additional federal planning funds if the first grant hasn’t been used. Bolger said House Republicans think it’s important to do more research before moving forward.
“We won’t be driven by artificial deadlines, we won’t be motivated by politics and we won’t act based solely on federal promises for money,” he said.
Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said the governor had hoped the matter could be dealt with Wednesday. Lawmakers won’t be back in Lansing until mid-August, when another one-day session is planned.
“We wish they were moving forward, but will work to help address and resolve the additional questions before they are ready to take next steps,” Wurfel said. “We just want to make sure we can have a Michigan solution that works and meets the need of Michigan families and job providers rather than have the federal government impose one on us.”
House Democrats also said their GOP counterparts shouldn’t delay.
“Governor Snyder and the Senate Republicans are ready to work with us to create a health care exchange so that we don’t have to rely on a `one size fits all’ exchange designed by the federal government,” said a statement from House Democratic Floor Leader Kate Segal. “Now that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the Affordable Care Act, it is time for the House Republicans to allow us to move forward and design our own health care exchange that will best meet the needs of Michigan residents and businesses.”
A group that supports the federal health care law, Michigan Consumers for Healthcare, called on Snyder to set up a joint state-federal exchange through an executive order, but there’s no sign the governor will take that route.
The health exchange website would allow individuals and small businesses to comparison shop for private health insurance. More than 500,000 Michigan residents are expected to buy private insurance through the exchange once it’s up and running in 2014, including some who already have coverage.
Nearly 1.3 million residents — about 13 percent of Michigan’s population — are uninsured.