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Wednesday, October 24,2012

Coverage for all

First-time millage would help thousands keep medical benefits

by Sam Inglot

Joan Nelson, director of the Allen Neighborhood Center, has been involved with pitching the Ingham Health Plan since its inception in 1998. She and folks at the ANC went door-to-door to help people enroll in the program. To this day, she said, they continue to register 20 to 25 people a month.

“We remind people all the time about the importance of the Ingham Health Plan in providing a coverage-like option for the thousands of uninsured people in Lansing,” she said. “It was a really innovative step for the county to take a long time before the Affordable Care Act.”

The Ingham Health Plan provides basic health care services to people in the county who make between $17,500 and $28,000, are not eligible for Medicaid and will not be covered under the Affordable Care Act, said Robin Reynolds, executive director of the program. 

The program provides free outpatient, lab, radiology, prescription benefits and preventative care to help keep people out of more intensive and expensive levels of care like emergency rooms. About 11,500 people are enrolled, Reynolds said. 

But that number could be cut in half in the next couple of years if a .52-mill increase is not passed, she said, because federal and state funding sources will be cut by 50 percent with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2014. The millage would be levied from 2012 to 2014 and is expected to raise $3.35 million in the first year. The millage proposal passed the Ingham County Board of Commissioners 11-3 along party lines, with Democrats voting in favor, in late August. 

Monica Kwasnik, 37, was on the IHP for about five years in her mid-20s when she was in and out of grad school and working part time. She helped Nelson and the ANC go door-to-door and pitch the program. As a member, she was able to tell people that it was easier to register for than insurance and explained that with the plan, people didn’t need to worry about “getting sick and going into debt.” She now works for Medicaid and sits on the IHP board. She is one of several former IHP members on the board.

“The IHP was there when I had no other options for coverage and it was invaluable,” she said. “I’m willing to pay the millage so the rest of the people in the county can have that same piece of mind and security that I had. That’s worth it to me.”

Reynolds said about 30,000 uninsured people are in Ingham County. The program is not available to anyone who receives Medicaid, Medicare or MIChild, an insurance program for families with uninsured children or for minors who are pregnant.

According to the 2012 Ingham Health Plan Community Report, this is the first millage that has been requested to support the program in its 14-year history. The report said the millage would cost a homeowner with a taxable value of $100,000 about $52 a year. 

Supporting the millage doesn’t just make sense from a health care perspective, Reynolds said — it makes economic sense, too. 

“We’re going to pay for people’s health care either now or later,” she said. “We’re all paying for uncompensated care that happens in emergency rooms and hospitals.” She said uncompensated care costs insured families about $1,500 a year in health care premiums, which happens when a person receives, say, emergency room treatment and can’t afford to pay the bill. The cost of that visit is absorbed by people who have insurance, usually in their premiums.

Bankruptcy and home foreclosure can often be attributed to high medical bills, Reynolds said. Having people on benefit programs like the Ingham Health Plan can help lessen those financial situations. 

The millage has the support of major health care providers in the area such as McLaren Health Care, Sparrow Health System and the Ingham County Health Department.

Reynolds said if the millage passes and the Affordable Care Act survives to full inception in 2014, then it would mean everyone in Ingham County could have access to health care.

“Maybe for the first time we’ll have 100 percent coverage under the Affordable Care Act and the Ingham Health Plan,” she said. “Combining the two, no one should be left without some sort of health care. But if we don’t get funded, that won’t be able to happen.”

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