Anti-Obamacare group visits the Keweenaw

HOUGHTON – The heads of Americans for Prosperity – Michigan visited Houghton Tuesday as part of an Upper Peninsula tour in opposition to Medicaid expansion in Michigan.

Scott Hagerstrom, state director of Americans for Prosperity, said it comes down to what people want: a centralized government that restricts people’s choices, or “a government that rewards individual effort, respects liberty, and believes limited government and economic liberty is why our country is so prosperous.”

The Supreme Court decision last year upholding the Affordable Care Act removed a provision that would have required states to expand Medicaid coverage, instead leaving it up to the individual states. Gov. Rick Snyder has proposed expanding Medicaid to more than 400,000 low-income residents making up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, which he said will save Michigan more than $200,000 a year.

The Michigan House has passed a bill, while the State Senate bill is still in committee. Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, has said he is undecided on the Medicaid expansion.

In addition to similar anti-Medicaid campaigns to Michigan’s in states such as Ohio and Georgia, Americans for Prosperity has also launched a television campaign against the Affordable Care Act.

Annie Patnaude, deputy state director of Americans for Prosperity, said the projections for health care costs depend on a certain number of people becoming insured. However, with no individual mandate, there are no criminal penalties for not paying, she said. That could repel younger, healthier people, who the Congressional Budget Office has said are most likely to see their premiums go up.

“Lots of experts have speculated that there will be a high percentage of young people who will say ‘It’s not worth it to purchase health insurance,'” she said.

Hagerstrom and Patnaude brought up Medicaid issues in Arizona and Maine, which they said have seen costs go up and the number of uninsured remain the same.

Hagerstrom suggested tackling other Medicaid reforms first, such as an emphasis on private health savings accounts.

Hagerstrom said Americans for Prosperity is not just focused on the health care issue, but on getting more people involved with the political process.

“A lot of people feel disenfranchised and feel it doesn’t make a difference,” he said. “I worked as a staffer in the legislature for 15 years, and it does make a difference.”

Drawing on his government experience, Hagerstrom had suggestions for people looking to contact their legislator. Messages should be direct and stick to one issue. Letters, emails and phone calls are best. Respectful messages are more likely to be heard, Hagerstrom said; people should keep in mind that being a legislator is “like drinking from a firehose.”

The event drew about 30 people, most of whom were in opposition to the ACA and the Medicaid expansion.

Mike Salmi of Houghton said he is opposed to the Medicaid plan. “If this costs four times what they say it will, what do we lose?” he said. “What do we gain? Bumpier roads?”

Edith Maki of Hancock said she was happy to get more information about the governor’s Medicaid plan.

“I’m disappointed in the governor, advocating for Medicaid,” she said. “The evidence doesn’t show it’s beneficial.”