Whitmer signs legislation to protect Healthy Michigan Plan, preserve access to vaccines

New law also adds organ donation registry to income tax forms

By: - July 19, 2023 2:58 pm

Parker Michels-Boyce/ States Newsroom

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday signed legislation addressing a wide range of health issues, including bills meant to protect access to public health insurance, allow pharmacists to independently administer vaccines, and make Michigan the first state to allow individuals to become organ donors through tax forms.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Feb. 8, 2023. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)

House Bills 4495 and 4496 aim to streamline and increase access to the Healthy Michigan Plan, a Medicaid program provided through the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and authorized under the federal Affordable Care Act. 

Created by the Michigan Legislature in 2014, the Healthy Michigan Plan now covers about one million people in the state. Available to those who don’t meet the requirements for other Medicaid programs, Healthy Michigan is open to Michiganders ages 19 to 64 who earn an income at or below 138% of the federal poverty level – $18,754 for an individual or $36,908 for a family of four.

Sponsored by Rep. Will Snyder (D-Muskegon) and Rep. Graham Filler (R-St. Johns), the legislation passed with bipartisan support, prevents the Healthy Michigan program from being repealed based on operating costs and eliminates “unneccessary conditions and paperwork” for enrollees, according to a Wednesday news release from Whitmer. Five Republican senators joined Democrats to pass both bills by a vote of 25-12 on June 27. The House on June 13 passed HB 4495 by a vote of 80-27 and HB 4496 by a vote of 83-24.

“We know that access to quality, affordable health care improves health outcomes overall,” Whitmer said in a Wednesday press release. “This legislation will ensure Michiganders can continue to access affordable health insurance under the Healthy Michigan Plan and make it easier for them to get the care and treatment they need.”

The legislation, referred to as the “Healthier Michigan Plan,” axes the previous mandate that Healthy Michigan enrollees contribute 5% of their income for cost sharing requirements, removes a requirement that triggers the elimination of Healthy Michigan if the program’s net costs outweigh the net savings, and gets rid of the stipulation that the state health department seek certain waivers from the federal government in order to provide various services through Healthy Michigan.

“Eliminating the automatic trigger removes the possibility of a catastrophic loss of coverage for hundreds of thousands of Michiganders,” Snyder, who sponsored HB 4495, said in a press release from Whitmer’s office. “The changes may seem small, but they have a huge impact on those who rely on the Healthy Michigan Plan for insurance coverage.”

Filler said the legislation will improve “access to health care for lower-income families and folks in rural communities, get more people insured and save taxpayers money.”

Health care organizations and advocates lauded Whitmer signing the bills into law, with the legislation receiving backing from the Michigan Association of Health Plans, the Committee to Protect Health Care, and the Michigan Health and Hospital Association.

“The bipartisan, proactive actions taken by our state lawmakers to pass the Healthier Michigan Plan will save tax dollars and drive healthier outcomes for Michigan’s most vulnerable populations who experience barriers to getting the health care they need,” Dominick Pallone, executive director of Michigan Association of Health Plans, said in a news release from Whitmer’s office.

Pallone and Dr. Farhan Bhatti, a family physician in Lansing and the Michigan state lead for the Committee to Protect Health Care, said on Wednesday that it’s important to continue offering Healthy Michigan in part because it has reduced Michigan’s uninsured rate and uncompensated care costs.

In 2013, 11.6% of Michiganders were uninsured. That number, according to the Michigan Association of Health Plans, has since dropped to 5.1% in 2022 – lower than the national average of 6.6%. The organization also reported that uncompensated care dropped from 5% of all hospital expenditures in 2013 to 2.5% in 2020.

Allowing pharmacists to administer vaccines

Whitmer also signed Senate Bill 219 into law on Tuesday, which allows pharmacists to continue to independently order and administer vaccines. Pharmacists have been able to independently provide vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they would have lost their authority to do so without the supervision of a doctor had state law not changed.

“During the pandemic, pharmacists were on the front line and we learned access to care and life-saving vaccines was critical to personal and public health,” said state Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit), who sponsored the legislation. “We must continue to improve access to healthcare and services and allowing pharmacists to continue to provide critical vaccinations will provide better care across the state.” 

Under the new law, pharmacists will be able to administer vaccines to individuals who are at least three years old – provided the professionals undergo a special training program and adhere to a number of reporting requirements. The vaccines pharmacists can administer must be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The bill landed bipartisan support, with the Senate passing it 35-1 on June 27 and the House passing it 96-12 on the same day.

Pharmacists at the state and national level have backed the legislation, including the National Community Pharmacists Association and the Michigan Pharmacists Association.

“The pharmacy community is not asking to provide any services that it has not already proven itself capable of delivering,” Eric Roath, director of government affairs at the Michigan Pharmacists Association, said during a Michigan Senate Health Policy Committee hearing in April.

Hundreds of people rallied in favor of the “Check Your Heart Act” outside the Michigan Capitol on June 20, 2023. Photo via Gift of Life Michigan Facebook page

Organ donors

Michigan is now the first state in the country to allow individuals to indicate if they are willing to be an organ donor on their state income tax return, following Whitmer signing House Bills 4362, 4363 and 4364 on Tuesday.

Currently, Michiganders are asked if they want to become organ donors when they renew their driver license – which they will still be able to do.

The package, named the “Check Your Heart Act,” landed bipartisan support, with HB 4362 passing 103-5 in the House and 30-7 in the Senate, HB 4363 passing 104-4 in the House and 30-7 in the Senate, and HB 4364 passing 103-4 in the House and 30-7 in the Senate. The sponsors of House Bills 4362, 4363 and 4364 were state Reps. Felicia Brabec (D-Pittsfield Twp.), Cynthia Neeley (D-Flint) and Natalie Price (D-Berkley), respectively. 

“With almost 2,500 Michiganders waiting for a lifesaving organ and another 16,000 currently undergoing dialysis, the Check Your Heart Act could help save the lives of thousands of Michigan patients,” Brabec said in a release from Whitmer’s office.By offering more opportunities to join the organ donor registry, this legislation will help to ensure that anyone who wants to become an organ donor has the ability to do so, by checking a box on their state tax forms.”

Neeley said “these laws will save lives.

“I myself was fortunate enough to donate my kidney to my sister; however, not all people are fortunate enough to have a life-saving match,” Neeley said. “Individuals in desperate need of organ or tissue donation can wait years to secure the organ they need — that’s why it is so important to have a strong organ donor registry.”

In June, hundreds of people rallied outside the Michigan Capitol to support the legislation – which the nonprofit Gift of Life Michigan said is expected to significantly boost a slow growing organ donor registry in Michigan. The Gift of Life is the nonprofit that facilitates organ and tissue donation for the state. According to the Michigan Secretary of State’s office, 56% of Michigan residents are organ donors – compared to about two-thirds of Michiganders five years ago.

At the June rally, Debra Wyant of Norton Shores spoke about her daughter, Shayna Sturtevant, who became the state’s first hand donor in 2016. Sturtevant had died at the age of 21 from a brain abscess stemming from an ear infection. Her donated organs saved the lives of three people.

“Gift of Life asked me if Shayna would want to help somebody by donating her hands,” Wyant said at the rally. “I knew right away the answer was yes, absolutely, because I can’t imagine what life would be like without the ability to touch or hold or do basic things for yourself.”

Dorrie Dils, president and CEO of the Gift of Life Michigan, said she hopes the legislation will lead to significantly more organ donors.

“The registry has struggled some since the COVID-19 pandemic for a host of reasons,” Dils said Wednesday in a prepared statement. “We’re so hopeful residents will check the box as they file their taxes in the spring.”


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Anna Gustafson
Anna Gustafson

Anna Gustafson is a former assistant editor at Michigan Advance, where her beats included economic justice, health care and immigration. Previously the founder of the Muskegon Times and the editor at Rapid Growth Media in Grand Rapids, Anna has worked as an editor and reporter for news outlets across the country.