This month, Michigan will become the twenty-fifth state to expand Medicaid access to the working poor. House Bill 4714 provides those who earn up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level with the opportunity to visit primary care physicians and receive preventative services.
Medicaid reform is a step in the right direction for Michigan, offering health care access to approximately 450,000 of the state’s currently uninsured residents. The Catholic tradition emphasizes the role of the parish community, charitable organizations, and faith-based hospitals in providing health care while also highlighting in the 1981 pastoral letter, Health and Health Care, that the government must protect “the right of all people to adequate health care.”
Healing and health care have been vital aspects of the Church’s ministry since the time of Jesus as institutions and individuals of the Church have provided—and continue to provide—places of care and support for those in need. In Health and Health Care, the U.S. bishops wrote that access to adequate health care is a basic right, one which “flows from the sanctity of human life” and the dignity of all individuals as those created in the image and likeness of God. The bishops also point out that special attention is needed to ensure basic health needs are met for the poor, encouraging the Church to work along with the government to make sure those in poverty are not threatened.
While Governor Rick Snyder expressed support for Medicaid expansion in February, the Michigan Legislature began serious discussion on the issue in May. The House of Representatives took testimony, including support from the Michigan Catholic Conference and the Catholic health systems of Michigan, and passed House Bill 4714 by a 76–31 bipartisan vote in June. After continued work on the bill through the Senate Healthy Michigan Workgroup during the summer, House Bill 4714 was adopted by the Senate in August with a 20–18 vote.
Throughout the process, Michigan Catholic Conference encouraged Catholics across the state to communicate with their lawmakers about the importance of passing such a policy through its Catholic Advocacy Network. This grassroots email system allows residents to easily contact their elected officials.
Following Senate passage of the bill, the Conference released a news statement that read: “Today the State Senate recognized the moral necessity of providing health care access to a greater number of uninsured residents. Reforming the state’s Medicaid program will benefit future generations of Michigan workers, families and children. Michigan Catholic Conference praises those who worked toward the passage of this policy and further extends its appreciation to Governor Snyder for his leadership and dedication to ensure this significant measure becomes law.”
While Catholics across the state can applaud the reform of health care access for uninsured Michigan residents, continued work is needed in the health care realm to strengthen and uphold conscience protections. The Michigan Legislature is currently considering Senate Bill 136 [Link no longer available —Ed.], the “Religious Liberty and Conscience Protection Act,” to protect health care workers, institutions and payers from having to provide or pay for services that violate their religious beliefs. Additionally, a signature gathering effort is underway to put legislation before Michigan lawmakers that would prevent taxpayer money from paying for abortion coverage on the newly created federal health exchanges.
Catholics across the state must continue to support policies that promote the common good, provide for greater access to health care and protect the life and conscience of every person.