LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday cut short his trade trip to Israel to return home and lobby reluctant fellow Republicans to expand Medicaid to more Michigan adults, as the clock ticked before lawmakers break for the summer.
"The governor makes a very strong case and we feel that he'll be able to make that strong case in person," Lt. Gov. Brian Calley told reporters toward the end of a long Senate session Wednesday night, when senators adjourned without voting on Medicaid expansion for the second straight day. "He spent a lot of time on the phone with people today, but it's a big enough issue for him that he has decided to cut the trade mission short by several days in order to manage the issue on the ground."
Snyder was expected to be back by midmorning Thursday, Calley said. He had been planning to return Saturday.
It is essentially do-or-die time if legislators are going to make hundreds of thousands of more adults eligible for government-funded health insurance in January under the federal health care law.
Democrats and Republicans in the GOP-controlled House teamed up to approve Medicaid expansion legislation last week. But the Senate's Republican leader is having trouble finding at least half of the chamber's 26 Republicans to support proceeding with a vote — the traditional threshold.
Calley, who cut short his own trip to the Upper Peninsula, said the issue is big enough for Michigan that it "deserves an up-or-down vote."
"We never expected it to be easy. It's still a major priority for the administration and we're treating it as such," he said.
Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, said he "will always look to his caucus for whether or not they want to see an issue to come up."
Conservative and tea party groups are pressuring lawmakers to oppose the expansion, including threatening to run candidates against some Republicans in 2014 primary elections. Snyder says providing health insurance to more people will make them healthier and save money because fewer uninsured patients will go to the emergency room for uncompensated care. Critics say Republicans should not be in the business of expanding government.
Medicaid covers roughly one in five Michigan residents, mainly low-income children, pregnant women and the disabled along with some poorer working adults. The bill would provide insurance to 320,000 more adults in 2014 and about a half-million by 2022, cutting the state's number of uninsured nearly in half.
Under the health care overhaul, states can expand Medicaid to adults making up to 133 percent of the poverty level, or about $15,300 for an individual. The U.S. government is offering to cover the entire cost initially and 90 percent down the line.
The bill includes GOP-written requirements that new enrollees making between 100 and 133 percent of the poverty line pay up to 5 percent of their income on medical expenses after being on the program for six months. They would have to contribute up to 7 percent of their income toward medical costs after getting Medicaid for four years.
The federal government would have to sign off on waivers for Michigan to proceed with its plan.
Snyder's absence from the Capitol this week has drawn criticism from Democrats. But a spokeswoman says he scheduled the trip more than five months ago based on the legislative calendar at that time.