5 Things Michigan: Behavioral health bills, State-based exchange, Whitmer’s State of the State


Eli Kirshbaum


In our first Michigan newsletter of 2023, we feature some of Reporter James Sklar’s coverage of the initial health-related legislation being discussed by lawmakers, input about the state’s new coverage of doula services through Medicaid, and important takeaways from Gov. Whitmer’s State of the State address regarding the future of abortion policy in Michigan.

We have also hit the ground running developing the 2023 Michigan State of Reform Health Policy Conference! We’re excited for another great event in Lansing with numerous valuable panel discussions, and we hope to see you there on May 23rd!

Thanks for your support,

Eli Kirshbaum
State of Reform


1. Sen. Anthony focuses on behavioral health

Sen. Sarah Anthony recently introduced several bills pertaining to behavioral health, including legislation to require insurers to cover critical mental health services and ensure the same level of benefits are offered for mental health as physical health. “It’s high time that we take mental health seriously in our state,” Anthony said in a statement. “These bills do just that.”

Another of Anthony’s bills aims to end the use of “chemical restraint”—the practice of using drugs on patients to discipline them or control their behavior. Having pursued this legislation for the past two years, Anthony is continuing to advocate for drugs to only be used for a diagnosed medical reason. She’s also hoping to grant students up to five excused absences for behavioral health reasons, which would make Michigan the 13th state to recognize such absences for its students.


2. Maternal health leaders praise new doula benefit but say increased reimbursement is needed

Michigan’s Medicaid program began covering doula services on Jan. 1st, joining several other states including Oregon and Nevada that have implemented Medicaid doula benefits over the past couple of years. Reporter James Sklar spoke with State Sen. Erika Geiss and Kiddada Green, founding executive director at Black Mothers’ Breastfeeding Association, who both emphasized the policy’s benefit for black mothers.

After Geiss’s bills to add the benefit failed to pass in the legislature, she worked with MDHHS to pursue and implement the policy. She emphasized the robust engagement process the department had with doulas themselves, as well as the importance of the Doula Advisory Council created in tandem with it. Geiss and Green both said doulas still aren’t paid sufficiently through Medicaid. “Doulas cannot make a living with this rate,” Green said. “There could be additional allowance with reimbursements.”


3. Stakeholders call for state-based exchange

With Michigan being one of 30 states that haven’t created their own state-regulated health insurance exchange under the ACA, Dept. of Insurance and Financial Services Insurance Legislative Liaison Joseph Sullivan recently told the House Health Policy Committee about the benefits of creating a state-specific marketplace. These include the ability to make adjustments to the marketplace based on the specific needs of Michiganders and improved outreach to beneficiaries.

Sullivan emphasized the potential for a state-based marketplace to increase overall coverage in the state. He said using the federal marketplace over one that’s operated by the state is like renting a house compared to buying one. Members of our Convening Panel for the upcoming Michigan State of Reform conference also recently highlighted this topic as a notable movement to track. Michigan will need to pass legislation and receive CMS approval to create the marketplace.


4. Sen. Cherry continues pursuing bill to require lead testing for children

In ongoing response to the aftermath of the Flint water crisis, Sen. John Cherry is again sponsoring a bill to require that children in the state be tested for lead poisoning. He sponsored the legislation last year but it failed to pass through the House. This comes after MDHHS’s recent move to lower the threshold for the amount of lead in blood that’s considered to be dangerous for children.

The bill would require two rounds of blood-lead testing for children in the state: once when they’re between nine and 12 months old and once when they’re between two and three years old. While this testing is mandatory for Medicaid-enrolled children, the bill would expand the requirement to children enrolled in other coverage. If passed, the bill would take effect on Jan. 1st, 2024.


5. Whitmer focuses on abortion in State of State

Newly reelected Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivered her State of the State address on Jan. 13th, with her main healthcare talking points revolving around continuing to safeguard abortion access. With a new Democratic trifecta government, she’s calling for Michigan to further increase protection for abortion care in the state by repealing a near-century-old law banning the procedure. Lawmakers are currently pushing forward a bill to do so.

“Let’s repeal our extreme 1931 law banning abortion,” Whitmer said. “Let’s repeal other dangerous laws prohibiting people from accessing reproductive healthcare or shaming them for seeking it in the first place. Together, we are going to change Michigan from a state with century-old bans to forward looking protections.” Michiganders voted to constitutionally guarantee the right to an abortion in November, but the existence of the 1931 ban has sustained some confusion about abortion policy in Michigan.