LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Republican Bill Schuette said Wednesday that he would not undo Michigan's expansion of Medicaid coverage if he were governor, countering Democrats' accusation that electing him would lead to hundreds of thousands of adults losing their government health insurance.
As state attorney general, Schuette has staunchly opposed the expansion program, known as Healthy Michigan, and the broader Obama-era federal health care law that authorized it. But in an interview with The Associated Press, he signaled that he would not try to end the expansion and would instead focus on implementing GOP-backed Medicaid work requirements that were enacted this year.
"The fact is Healthy Michigan is the law," Schuette said. "It's not going anywhere."
Incredulous Democrats noted his longstanding opposition to the Affordable Care Act, said he has no credibility on health care and accused him of trying to escape his record.
Their gubernatorial nominee Gretchen Whitmer has touted her 2013 vote to expand Medicaid to 663,000 additional people and warns in a TV ad that Schuette would take the coverage away. The expansion was championed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and approved by a divided GOP-led Legislature with help from Democrats.
Schuette said he wants to "reform" the Healthy Michigan program and "make it better," saying he supports requiring able-bodied recipients to work because the state has 80,000 unfilled jobs. In June, Snyder and Republican lawmakers enacted a law requiring abled-bodied enrollees ages 18 to 62 in the expansion program to show workforce engagement averaging 80 hours a month — through work, school, job or vocational training, an internship, substance abuse treatment or community service.
Schuette said the Affordable Care Act, under which states had the option to expand Medicaid, has been a "failure" and he wants to replace it while keeping its protections for people with pre-existing conditions and letting young adults stay on their parents' insurance until they turn 26.
Whitmer, in an interview with the AP earlier Wednesday before Schuette spoke, said Schuette has challenged the Affordable Care Act "at every step" and wants to repeal it.
"This is tantamount to throwing 680,000 people in our state off of health care," she said, calling Medicaid expansion a "stark difference" between her and Schuette. "I want to keep working to get more people covered. He wants to take health care way from people."
Schuette criticized the expansion of Medicaid at the time the law was approved and earlier this year ran a TV ad criticizing one of his GOP primary opponents, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, for supporting the expansion. On Wednesday, however, he said Democrats' warnings that enrollees could lose their insurance under a Schuette governorship are a "scare tactic, the way they used to scare people about Social Security. It's the same old scare tactic of trying to intimidate people. It's false, it's wrong."
In response to Schuette's latest comments, Whitmer spokesman Zack Pohl said Schuette has been involved in nine different lawsuits against the federal health law — filing suit or submitting amicus briefs — and is trying to "run from his record on health care."
Michigan Democratic Party spokesman Sam Newton said Schuette "has zero credibility on health care, and coverage for 680,000 Michiganders is on the ballot. Bill Schuette spent years using his office to fight Medicaid expansion."
Schuette's statements came the same week that a poll released by the Detroit News and WDIV-TV showed Whitmer leading Schuette, 50 percent to 36 percent, with 10 percent undecided. The Glengariff Group survey was done Sept. 5-7 and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Also Wednesday, former Vice President Joe Biden campaigned with and raised money for Whitmer in Oakland County near Detroit. And Vice President Mike Pence touted tariffs on imported steel and the federal tax cuts during a visit to a steel supplier in Grand Rapids, praising the company for giving all of its 400 workers a $1,000 bonus because of the tax cut.
At a restaurant in Southfield, Biden said the governor's race is a "bellwether for the whole country," and said that along with contests in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and Wisconsin, it will determine redistricting for the next decade and the "mood of the country, whether we're back. It's really, really important."