Low income health care a first for many recipients

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Capital News Service

LANSING– Scott Moody, 51, worked for years at a local sawmill in Osceola County.

He never had access to a doctor when he was sick or injured. He worked through his pain, including a loss of feeling in his fingers and arthritis in his knees. Then he was injured in a car accident.

When Moody took time off to recover and care for sick family members, he was let go. Finally, Moody’s pain was too much to bear, and he sought help.

He had heard about the Healthy Michigan Plan from a friend who worked at the local health department and was able to enroll within weeks of applying.

“I had a real bad toothache and some chipped teeth, a real bad infection, and they went right in and took care of it,” Moody said.

Moody is enrolled in a family plan with his wife, Sandra Moody. According to Moody, he has yet to pay any fees for his health care, easing some of his financial stress.

The Healthy Michigan Plan covers 670,036 people, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, and is widely considered to be a success.

A recent University of Michigan study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that enrollees spend less on health care, are less likely to file for bankruptcy or be evicted, are less likely to overdraw their credit cards and are more likely to be approved for certain loans.

Health care providers also say it’s a success.

“Hospitals have seen a pretty significant impact,” said Laura Wotruba, director of public affairs for the Michigan Health and Hospital Association. “With more affordable health care, more patients are able to seek help.”

Enrollees must be between 19 and 64 and earn less than $16,000 for single coverage or less than $33,000 for families of four, according to the state website.

“We haven’t personally done any analysis, but when our staff enrolls people, we hear some say that they haven’t had insurance before,” said Jen Hansen, health promotion supervisor for the District 10 Health Department, which oversees 19,000 Healthy Michigan enrollees in Crawford, Kalkaska, Wexford, Missaukee, Manistee, Mason, Lake, Newaygo, Oceana and Mecosta counties. “Although it’s all anecdotal, clients tell us that this relieves a lot of burdens for them.”

Others agree.

“A number of studies have looked at the success of the Healthy Michigan program, including studies on how it has improved individuals’ ability to get and keep a job and how many jobs it has helped create,” Emily Schwarzkopf, a policy analyst for the Michigan League for Public Policy based in Lansing, said in an email. “We are obviously very happy to see the results of this study, which once again shows that having insurance helps people maintain financial security. This study shows how successful the Healthy Michigan plan is and how important it is for us to maintain the program.”

Although the Healthy Michigan Plan faced some opposition when it was first introduced in 2013, several groups agree on its effectiveness.

“We believe that healthy individuals lead to healthy communities,” said Meghan Swain, executive director for the Michigan Association for Local Public Health. “Healthy communities lead to a healthy state, and if the general population is healthy, businesses save money, as well as insurance companies.”

The Healthy Michigan Plan provides access to essential health benefits, according to state officials. These benefits include access to ambulances, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity/newborn care, mental health, substance abuse treatment services, prescriptions, rehabilitativee services and devices, lab services, preventive services and chronic disease management and pediatric services.

“I recommend that anyone curious asks for it,” Moody said. “I didn’t think anyone could help me, I didn’t ask, I was just struggling along until it got too bad. I’d recommend it to someone who’s struggling along like I am.”

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