Republican Bill Schuette said Wednesday that he wouldn't undo Michigan's expansion of Medicaid coverage if he were governor, refuting 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."
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer has touted her 2013 vote to expand Medicaid to 663,000 additional people and says in a TV ad that Schuette would take it 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.
"This is a Democrat 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," said Schuette, who criticized the expansion of Medicaid at the time the law was approved and earlier this year ran a TV ad criticizing one of his primary opponents, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, for supporting the expansion.
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 it 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."
In response to Schuette's latest comments, the Whitmer campaign said Schuette has filed nine different lawsuits against the federal health law and is trying to "run from his record on health care."