Of course ALEC has a place in Michigan’s expansion of Medicaid. They probably helped write the bill.
After Senate Republicans passed H.B. 4714 on Tuesday to expand Medicaid to cover an additional 470,000 people, I thought it would be smart to have a look at just what’s in this legislation. I discovered that about 24 pages of the 40-page bill is new content, added on to the Social Welfare Act of 1939. A large amount of the new content consists of admonitions that the law will be void if the federal government (a) doesn’t give them the two waivers they need to comply with the Affordable Care Act and (b) gives them one penny less than the full amount to cover the program as promised. An even more astonishing amount of the new content are directives that the department of Community Health set up all sorts of benchmarks and measurements of cost savings that look very much like assembling the pieces of the puzzle so that they can later pull the plug on it should it fail to lower costs.
That’s all fine, I suppose. The Republicans’ new-found love of lowering health care costs in our state is admirable if a little disingenous after having stayed largely silent on the issue for the past … well, forever. They’ve also rediscovered their love of “telemedicine” after banning it in the case of ending a pregnancy just last year.
There are sure to be some things in the bill that will upset progressives like “cost sharing” co-pays and contributions for the enrollees in the program that are up to 5% of their annual income. Given that Senate Democrats had a hand in crafting this legislation, I’m a little less freaked out about that than many are. There’s also a piece that increases “cost sharing” levels if the person has been in the program for four years. There don’t appear to be any exceptions made for those who are chronically ill and simply cannot work a job that provides health insurance or allows them to pay for it themselves and this is one of the elements for which they need a waiver from the Obama administration.
There was one other thing that I found in the Senate-passed version of the bill that seriously caught my attention. It’s important to note that this item is NOT in the House version of the bill, only in the Senate version. What I discovered is that our friends at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are mentioned by name in H.B. 4714 as are two other groups that have been described as “Other ALECs”. Here’s the pertinent section found on page 14:
By December 31, 2015, the department of Community Health shall review and report to the legislature the feasibility of programs recommended by multiple national organizations that include, but are not limited to, the Council of State Governments, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the American Legislative Exchange Council, on improving the cost-effectiveness of the medical assistance program.
We all know that ALEC is a corporate-funded group that writes model legislation and hands them off to their corporatist minions in state legislatures across the country. They are responsible for bills aimed at crushing unions, privatizing nearly every public service you could imagine, “reforming” education to the extent that it destroys public schools, and they are even the authors of some of the odious “stand your ground” laws we see around the country. The other two groups, the Council of State Governments (CSG), the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), however, may not be such familiar names to many of us. Thankfully, Truth-out.org has an extensive exposé on both called “The Other ALECs: A Look at the Lesser Known Stealth Lobbies That Write Bills for Your State”:
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been the target of increasing public scrutiny and opprobrium – and while the recent defections of several major companies from ALEC suggest public outcry has the power to rein in even the most deep-pocketed players, it would be a mistake to target scrutiny solely at ALEC and its members.
Why? Because other stealth lobbyists have penetrated bipartisan trade associations for state government officials – groups subsidized by taxpayers. In particular, corporate lobbies advance their agendas through the Council of State Governments – whose multimillion-dollar budget is mostly taxpayer funded – and the National Conference of State Legislatures. Through these innocuously named organizations, lobbyists exploit a well-tethered network of nonprofits representing state-level officials to advance the agendas of their corporate clientele.
If you read through their remarkable exposé, you quickly learn that these groups have been put in place to woo legislators and encourage them to pass laws that benefit large corporations and conservative interests.The CSG, for example, is called “That Other Bill Mill”. The NCSL has events that are dominated by lobbyists, working overtime to influence legislators:
The Seattle Times quoted one lobbyist who described the 2005 NCSL National Summit in Seattle as a “schmoozapalooza,” reporting that there were over twice as many lobbyists as legislators at the event. Over six thousand people signed up for the event, yet only 1,300 of them were politicians, the rest being “lobbyists or people representing businesses, labor unions and other interest groups,” according to The Times.
Corporations spent a lump sum of $1.3 million on the 2005 summit, including paying for politicians and lobbyists to attend “a (Seattle) Mariners game (a $142,000 expense, with the wine alone costing $12,000 for the day) and a fully catered Washington Extravaganza at Seattle Center (a $402,800 expense).” Boeing, Microsoft and the Gates Foundation chipped in $100,000 apiece to take part in the fun.
These corporate-funded groups (which also take in a large amount of tax money) are now about to be written into Michigan state law as being legitimate sources for models to reduce health insurance costs. Given their ties to Big Business, I’m sure we can all imagine what that will look like.
[CC Facepalm image credit: Cesar Astudillo | Flickr]