5 Things Michigan: Q&A w/ Rep. Whiteford, ‘5 Slides’ video, Lobbyist on 2021 session


Eli Kirshbaum


I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving holiday! This week’s newsletter includes a conversation with Rep. Mary Whiteford on her policy priorities, our recent “5 Slides We’re Watching ” video on the cost of new medicines, and an interview with a health care lobbyist about some of the main themes they’ve seen around health policy this session.

I also want to note that registration just opened for our 2022 State of Reform Federal Health Policy Conference, which we will host virtually on Feb. 17. Early Bird registration ends this Friday, so be sure to take advantage of the discounted price and secure your spot!

Thanks for reading!


Eli Kirshbaum
State of Reform

1. Q&A: Rep. Whiteford on BH reform, opioid use

Republican Rep. Mary Whiteford is leading an effort in the Michigan Legislature to streamline behavioral health care delivery in the state. Her bipartisan five-bill package would replace Michigan’s 10 public PIHPs with one administrative services organization to oversee all BH service delivery—something she says would save the state around $300 million in administrative costs. These bills have sat in their committee of origin since May, but Whiteford says she hopes to further this work in December.

In this Q&A, Whiteford also discusses her three-bill package to reduce opioid abuse by requiring providers and insurers to provide patients with non-opioid directive forms upon enrollment to ensure they can choose an alternative treatment. “A person needs to have a conversation with their doctor to determine how long [they] need opiates [and] what other modalities are there…so that the person has a conscious decision about whether or not they want to incorporate opiates into their treatment.”


2. 5 Slides: The policy implications of new medicines

Our recent “5 Slides We’re Watching” discussion explored policy solutions to the high cost of new medicines. Cheryl Larson, president and CEO of MBGH, Robert Popovian, PharmD, senior health policy fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, and Laura Minzer, president of the Illinois Life and Health Insurance Council, joined us for this conversation.

The panelists’ suggestions largely revolved around PBM oversight. “We need to keep the PBMs and pharma companies’ feet to the fire, and PBMs need more transparency [and] no more gamesmanship with rebates and fees and everything else,” Popovian said.


3. MDHHS hopes to improve health in juvenile justice system with new RFPs

MDHHS last month released two RFPs that aim to improve the mental health of justice-involved youth. The department is accepting proposals for initiatives to keep youth with mental health struggles out of the juvenile justice system and to reduce racial and ethnic disparities (REDs) within the system.

Melinda Fandel of the Michigan Committee on Juvenile Justice said the first RFP is important because many children don’t receive the mental health care they need and end up in the justice system instead of being treated. The latter RFP will fund initiatives that aim to curb racial disparities at the point of arrest, she said.


4. Lobbyist highlights legislature’s work on health care workforce

Aiding the health care workforce has been the biggest priority for Michigan lawmakers this session, according to Heather Nicholoff, senior associate at Kheder, Davis, & Associates. She says SB 759—which was introduced only a few days ago and would allow out-of-state health care workers to practice in Michigan during a pandemic—is part of the larger effort she’s seeing to address the “huge concern” that is the state’s health care workforce shortage.

Bolstering this workforce, Nicholoff says, will ease the burden placed on the professionals currently in the field and allow them to practice to their fullest extent. “We need to make sure that all hands are on deck and everyone’s available and able to utilize their knowledge and training to the best of their ability to offer that assistance for our residents. I think that is the most important conversation.”


5. Sparrow Hospital reaches tentative agreement with employees

PECSH-MNA—the union representing Sparrow Hospital employees—reached a tentative contract agreement last week with the facility, halting the union’s plans to hold a strike. This comes after months of calls from Sparrow employees to improve working conditions at the facility.

The tentative new three-year contract includes wage increases, a prohibition on health care premium increases, and guaranteed access to PPE. The contract isn’t final until PECSH-MNA votes to ratify it, which is expected to happen within the next couple of weeks after the union holds informational meetings on the agreement with its membership.