Update on health conversations in the budget

Lawmakers recently referred the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) budget bills, SB 79 and HB 4399, to conference committee. 

 

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Both the House and Senate passed their own versions of the department budget in late May. Now in conference committee, the two chambers will work together to create an agreed upon plan.

The chosen conference committee members on the House side include Reps. Mary Whiteford, Phil Green and Abdullah Hammoud. The Senate side includes Sens. Rick Outman, Jim Stamas and Sylvia Santana. 

Michigan is in strong financial shape according to Michigan’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference. According to Steve Angelotti, Associate Director of Human Services at the Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency, this is because Michiganders who were working and saving money during the COVID-19 pandemic are starting to consume more as restrictions ease. 

Despite Michigan’s strong financial standing, Angelotti says this year’s spending plan will mainly be a continuation of last year’s budget.

“I don’t think [the budget] reflects significant policy differences. In large part the budget is a continuation budget.”

Angelotti also says, however, there are several contentious areas of the budget among lawmakers that will likely be discussed during conference committee. These areas include diversity and equity workforce at MDHHS, Medicaid coverage for adults with sickle cell anemia and the continuation of the $2 wage increase for public health workers instituted during the pandemic.

The Senate-passed Health and Human Services budget for 2021-2022 is set at $31.6 billion, which is a $2.9 billion increase from the previous year. The House-passed budget bill is set at $28.7 billion which is similar to the previous year. 

Budget priorities were a key topic of conversation on the “Capitol Insiders” panel at the 2021 Michigan State of Reform Health Policy Conference

During the conversation, panelists said this is a pivotal moment for the state due to excess federal funds. According to Christin Nohner, senior government affairs consultant for RWC Advocacy, this revenue growth can be used to support long-term health priorities, generate savings for future investment or spend on one-time critical health efforts. 

Behavioral health, health care workforce, data collection and child care are all priorities that need funding, panelists added.  

Gilda Jacobs, president and CEO of Michigan League for Public Policy, said data collection is imperative to analyze the effectiveness of programs the legislature decides to fund. Jacobs said this money should be invested in future needs for necessary programs which are proven to be successful. 

“We would be foolish if we didn’t use this opportunity to plan ahead and also to think about how we as a state are going to make sure that there are enough revenues moving forward to be able to fund programs that are successful.”

Currently, representatives from the Whitmer administration and legislature are target setting department budgets. Conference committee discussion will begin after that.