LANSING LINES

Enviro Groups Call Out Schuette For PFAS Response
Environmental groups took Attorney General Bill Schuette to task last month for “dragging his feet” on per- and polyfluoralkyl substances (PFAS) contamination in Michigan—behavior they compare to his response to the Flint water crisis.

Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Chair David Holtz said Schuette “is failing communities all across Michigan” and Bob Allison, deputy director at the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, called it “yet another example of inaction from our government—despite multiple warnings.”

“He’s sitting on PFAS contamination complaints just like he chose not to act on reports of lead in Flint’s drinking water,” Holtz said. “Attorney General Schuette had the authority to take legal action, but instead he chose to delay holding the Air Force accountable for their toxic mess.”

Allison added: “We learned earlier this year that the state ignored and shelved a report six years ago that raised alarms about this crisis. The state House, led by Tom Leonard, who now wants to be the next Attorney General, has shirked its responsibility for nearly a year in passing a tough, safe PFAS drinking water standard.”

The reaction came after the Detroit Free Press published an article quoting Troy attorney Anthony Spaniola, who owns property near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda Township.

Bob Delaney, an environmental quality specialist with the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), said in 2014 that contaminants known as perfluorinated compounds were first discovered at the shuttered Air Force post in 2010.

The chemicals have been linked to cancers and other health-related issues.

Spaniola told MIRS that despite Delaney warning state officials about the contamination, “for the better part of eight years all levels of state government has sat on their hands.”

Spaniola said there was a dispute about whether the Air Force or state was responsible for the plumes of groundwater contamination entering the adjacent Van Etten Lake, Van Etten Creek and the Au Sable River, which pours into Lake Huron.

Spaniola and other residents had pushed to get action, but the Air Force claimed it didn’t need to comply with the regulation cited by the state and Schuette’s office, presumably, didn’t immediately respond to the Air Force.

“That dragged on for months and month and months,” he said, explaining that all the AG’s office had to do was point to the statute that said yes, the Air Force had to clean it up.

“For whatever reason, the AG’s office didn’t do it,” Spaniola continued. “We started seeing surface water foam, which was highly contaminated from PFAS. They let it escalate and fester.”

A message to Schuette’s office wasn’t returned today. In the past, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) points to the $23.2 million the legislature passed before the end of 2017 to help address elevated PFAS levels.

“Michigan has moved faster than any other state in addressing PFAS contamination,” said DEQ’s Scott Dean in July. “We moved quickly to protect people from potentially unsafe drinking water in communities with known PFAS contamination from historical, industrial or military activities.”

According to the Detroit Free Press story, Base Realignment and Closure Cleanup Team meeting minutes show DEQ officials asked about the Air Force investigating the contamination in April 2017 and that the Air Force asked the request be put in writing. However, the newspaper noted, the DEQ letter was not sent until February.

Minutes from one meeting indicate the requested letter being “in the Attorney General’s Office” on Sept. 28, the Free Press reported.

Spaniola said the state also is “lagging” compared to other states because Michigan doesn’t have drinking water standards for PFAS.

“That’s a huge problem,” he noted.

MSMS: If You Graduate Med School, You’re A Doctor
The Michigan State Medical Society issued a statement today reading, “When a person graduates from medical school, that individual is entitled by law to call themselves a medical doctor, whether that individual works in a clinical or non-clinical setting.”
The statement from the professional association of more than 15,000 Michigan physicians comes as another entity airs a television ad criticizing 6th Congressional District candidate Matt Longjohn for calling himself a doctor with a PhD when he’s not registered to practice in Michigan or anywhere else.

Today’s ad comes from “Defending Main Street,” a pro-Republican SuperPAC, which promises a six-figure buy until Election Day on the issue of Longjohn calling himself a doctor on the campaign trail. The former YMCA’s former medical head did graduate from medical school, but isn’t licensed to practice.

“If Matt Longjohn is misleading voters on the campaign trail, how can Michigan families expect to trust him in Washington?” said Defending Main Street President Sarah Chamerlain.

The Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs opened a complaint file against Longjohn last month based on the allegation that was sent to the Michigan Board of Medicine for review.

The rub is more about Longjohn’s use of the “MD” and the clear impression he leaves in some campaign material that he sees patients. The Public Health Code forbids using titles that gives the public the impression you can practice medicine when you are not legally able to do so.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton’s campaign and the Congressional Leadership Fund is also using this message on Longjohn in their ads, which Upton campaign manager called “another desperate and disgraceful smear” from Upton “and his Washington special interest friends.”

“They are lying about Dr. Longjohn because Upton has failed his constituents on health care,” said Ben Young. “The real story here is that Dr. Longjohn is a Southwest Michigan kid who worked his heart out to go to medical school, earned an MD as a single dad, and became one of the top health care innovators in the country who has improved care for millions. He is running to be part of a new generation of leadership, and that scares the hell out of career politicians like Fred Upton and his ilk.”

In related news, the race may be tightening, according to Sabato’s Crystal Ball which recently changed the MI-6 rating from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.”

So What’s The Deal With Pre-Existing Conditions, Anyway?
If there’s anything Americans appear to agree on, it’s that people shouldn’t be denied health insurance coverage or have to pay more because of a medical condition they’ve had.
There’s so much support–from both sides of the political spectrum, polls show—for protecting coverage for people with pre-existing conditions that both Democrats and Republicans are going to great lengths to demonstrate how much they support what’s been heralded as the most popular component of former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Here in Michigan, both Democrats Gretchen Whitmer and Elissa Slotkin have had mothers who had cancer. Both said they struggled to get the healthcare their moms needed.

And both candidates have used those stories in their campaign ads to attack their Republican opponents, Bill Schuette and Mike Bishop, for their efforts to allegedly undermine protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

But both Republicans have said they support protecting coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. They said their records prove it, even if Schuette as Attorney General has supported nine lawsuits against the ACA, or that Bishop has voted for the repeal-and-replace bill in Congress.

Arielle Kane, director of health care at the Washington, D.C.-based Progressive Policy Institute, described pre-existing condition coverage as the “linchpin which kept the ACA alive.”

An August poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found 75 percent believe it’s important to prevent insurance companies from denying coverage based on a person’s medical history and 72 percent believe it’s important to prevent those companies from charging sick people more. Republicans approve of those measures 58 percent and 56 percent, respectively.

Kaiser also reported recently that 71 percent of voters say health care is “very important” in their voting decisions for Congress this year, but the same poll found it means much more to Democrats (40 percent say it’s a top issue) than Republicans (17 percent).

Kane said playing up the pre-existing conditions piece is a winning issue for Democrats because of its aforementioned popularity, but also because it’s “really relatable” and “very personal.”

“It more feels like a fairness issue, and people just won’t stand for it,” she said.

Even Doug Badger, visiting fellow at the D.C.-based Heritage Foundation and a senior advisor to former President George W. Bush, acknowledged Republicans haven’t done a good job defending themselves on the issue.

Badger said it’s not a question of whether people with pre-existing conditions should have coverage, but how to make healthcare accessible and affordable for both people with pre-existing conditions and people who don’t have those.

“The Affordable Care Act solved the first part of the equation, unfortunately, at the expense of the second part,” he said.

Schuette has tried to argue his support for covering pre-existing conditions is separate from his repeated calls to repeal and replace Obamacare.

But that nuance may not matter to voters, said Arnold Weinfeld, interim director of MSU’s Institute for Public Policy and Research, who served a stint in the state House with the Democrats.

“It’s going to be seen as a flip,” Weinfeld said. “Because people are going to ask them, point-blank, then why did you vote for repeal . . . why did you look to . . . sue to overturn the Affordable Care Act.”

Weinfeld said Democrats have set the narrative, and Republicans “are going to have a very hard time nuance-ing their way around it.”

Either way, Republicans here have fought back aggressively – Schuette has fiercely refuted Whitmer’s claim that Schuette thinks insurance companies “should be allowed to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions,” as she says in her ad, which Bridge Magazine’s Truth Squad ultimately labeled misleading.

Bridge wrote, “Schuette may or may not think insurers should have that choice. But he certainly has never explicitly said it.”

Schuette staged a Lansing press conference soon after the Whitmer ad debuted to demonstrate examples of people with pre-existing conditions that he’s fought for (See “Schuette: Whitmer Did No `Heavy Lifting’ To Get Healthy Michigan OKed,” 10/8/18).

And he’s out with a new ad claiming he’s voted “6 times” to protect coverage of pre-existing conditions, with the ad citing “Michigan State Senate Voting Records.”

As for Bishop, he’s now calling Slotkin a liar for her attacks that he voted to “gut” coverage for that population.

“My opponent, her party and Nancy Pelosi have been doing this around the country. It’s in the bill itself,” Bishop said.

His campaign followed up with a press release detailing his “19-year record of votes” supporting protections for people with pre-existing conditions, both in the state Senate and the U.S. House.

Slotkin has highlighted the pre-existing condition issue in at least two campaign ads, including the one about detailing her mom’s story.

It’s a reference to Bishop’s support of congressional Republicans’ failed attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Yet Badger said hanging an attack on lawmakers like Bishop over the U.S. House healthcare bill isn’t fair, because he said it didn’t eliminate those protections. However, it allowed states to set variations in premiums based on health status, so long as those premiums could be subsidized for the people affected, he said.

Politifact concluded the American Health Care Act – the U.S. House bill – would “weaken protections” for people with pre-existing conditions, while not ultimately nixing the insurers’ requirement to offer coverage.

In the WDIV Flashpoint debate between the MI-8 candidates, Bishop said the bill he voted for said health status cannot affect premiums, except if a state is approved for a waiver. Slotkin said the Republican bill would still price people with pre-existing conditions out of the market (See “Dem-Connected PAC Putting $1.4M Into MI-8, MI-11; Slotkin Releases New Ad,” 10/9/18).

When it comes to ensuring folks with pre-existing coverage get health insurance, that ACA-imposed requirement applies to the individual market, which isn’t where most Americans get their health insurance.

The Kaiser Family Foundation had the number at 14.4 million enrolled in early 2018 in the individual market, and the U.S.A. has about 328 million people. Data from 2016 show about 49 percent of Americans get coverage via their employer.

In fact, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, otherwise known as HIPAA, was approved by Congress in 1996 and was designed to protect people with pre-existing conditions who have employer-based coverage, according to this NPR article.

When asked about this, Kane said while it may be a smaller population affected by the pre-existing condition policy, we “all know someone in that situation.”

And when it comes to Michigan, before the ACA was ever around, there were certain conditions mandated for coverage in the public health code, like cancer, said Dominick Pallone, executive director of the Michigan Association of Health Plans.

So while people are “fired up” about the Texas case potentially eliminating protections for pre-existing conditions, Badger said, “it would have no practical effect in the state of Michigan” because insurers would still need to cover those conditions under state regulations.

2018-11-13T23:03:39+00:00