GRAND RAPIDS (WWJ/AP) – Gov. Rick Snyder wants to give a booster shot to Michigan’s health care system by tackling obesity, getting more people into wellness programs and setting up an exchange where citizens and businesses can buy health insurance.
The Republican governor unveiled his plans Wednesday during a special message to the Legislature on health and wellness at the Heart of the City Health Center in Grand Rapids.
During the event, Snyder disclosed his body mass index, or BMI, which uses height and weight to estimate body fat, as well as his blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar counts. He plans to post the numbers online and update them if they change.
The governor himself stepped onto a scale Wednesday, which showed he weighed 194 pounds. “I’ve got a few pounds to lose, folks,” Snyder admitted, saying he set a goal of losing 10 pounds by the end of the year.
Skubick said Snyder’s cholesterol is good, “and his blood pressure is good, although it went up during the news conference,” he said.
Snyder said he wants to install a scale at the Capitol for visitors to weigh themselves, reasoning that “there’s no better way than measurement and the opportunity to do this together.”
Among Snyder’s goals are getting more veterans enrolled in health care offered by the Veterans Administration and giving children better access to healthier foods and exercise, and tracking pediatric obesity by adding their body mass measurements to a state registry.
WWJ Lansing Bureau Chief Tim Skubick said some may find that part of the governor’s plan controversial.
“If you’re a conservative Republican, this is the government … kind of, you know, getting its nose into your personal business,” said Skubick.
“The governor was asked that, and he said … I understand that but, you know what? This is still the right thing to. If we can track kids from an early age and they show the signs that they might be becoming overweight, maybe we could do something about getting that weight off those young kids,” he said. “So, he’s sticking to his guns on this one.”
The governor also wants to ensure that young pregnant women get prenatal care and children statewide get dental care. He also wants to outlaw smoking on state beaches.
Skubick said there are no government mandates in the governor’s plan, other than mandating insurance coverage for autism treatment, “and there will be some pushback on that from the business community,” Skubick said.
One of Lt. Gov. Brian Calley’s children suffers from autism, but his efforts to push through legislation requiring the coverage have failed in the Senate. Snyder said “it’s time” for Michigan to join the 27 states that require insurers to cover the disorder. (More on this part of the story, here).
Even as he was laying out ways for the state to better serve residents’ health care needs, Snyder called on individuals to take more responsibility for their own health and wellness through what he referred to as the Michigan 4X4 plan. Under the plan, everyone should maintain a healthy diet, engage in regular exercise, get an annual physical exam and avoid all tobacco use, and must have regular checks of their body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol level and blood sugar level measurements.
“If each of us practice the Michigan 4X4 plan, our lives will be fuller, our health costs dramatically reduced and our ability to take advantage of all that is Michigan enhanced,” he said in a copy of his remarks.
As with other initiatives the governor has introduced this year on education and government services, the Snyder administration has created a new health dashboard to measure statewide progress on reaching his goals. He urged local communities to identify their own local health priorities, find ways to address them and evaluate their success.
He praised the Marquette community for increasing physical activity by making walking and biking more accessible, planting community gardens, adding farmers markets and developing workplace wellness policies. And he said the state will draw on experts from all communities when it holds an obesity summit in Lansing on Sept. 21 and an infant mortality summit in Ypsilanti on Oct. 17.
Although Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette has joined more than a dozen other attorneys general in a lawsuit challenging federal health care changes, Snyder said he wants the GOP-controlled Legislature to begin implementing requirements in the federal law this fall. That includes passing legislation setting up Michigan’s version of a health insurance exchange called the MI Health Marketplace.
“Done right, the MI Health Marketplace legislation will allow customers and small businesses to make more efficient and better informed decisions about buying health insurance coverage,” Snyder said. He urged lawmakers to pass the necessary legislation by Thanksgiving so the state can use federal funding to set up the exchange and meet the requirements in the federal law.
The governor wants to take a “fresh look” at how the state regulates Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan, which insures 4.3 million state residents, as part of an expansion of health insurance coverage. New rules require insurance providers to cover immunizations and preventative care for women and children, drop coverage limits and make other changes. He also wants to overhaul the 33-year-old state public health code, which doesn’t mention electronic records or address many of the changes in medical services over recent decades.
He said the Medicaid program for low-income patients and the Medicare program for seniors would be better coordinated under his plan, potentially saving hundreds of millions of dollars. The state has received a $1 million federal grant to make the transition to a coordinated program by October 2012.
The governor also is having his administration review the state’s 25 health profession licensing boards and task forces and decide if Michigan should instead accept national accreditation or certification for health care professionals.
“Health is the foundation for Michigan’s economic transformation,” Snyder said. “In order to see real improvement in our public health, and to make rising health care costs as manageable as possible, all levels of government, the private sector and individual Michiganders have a part to play.”
The Associated Press contribued to this report.