Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Schuette on Wednesday doubled down on his criticism of Democratic rival Gretchen Whitmer for backing a bipartisan overhaul of Michigan's largest health insurer, saying it led to a spike in costs for supplemental insurance that covers Medicare recipients' coinsurance and deductibles.
Schuette first attacked Whitmer over the issue Monday while defending himself against allegations she has lobbed at him in TV ads, including that he thinks insurers should be able to deny coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions. He said in a statement Wednesday — two days before their first head-to-head debate — that he negotiated a five-year rate freeze on Blue Cross Blue Shield's Medigap policies as state attorney general, but the 2013 law letting the insurer transform into a new nonprofit structure also stripped his power to regulate Medigap premiums.
He accused Whitmer, a former state senator who faced criticism from Democratic opponents in the primary over her ties to Blue Cross, of eliminating "protections that resulted in massively higher costs for seniors." Both Whitmer, whose father once ran the company, and Schuette have received campaign donations from Blue Cross' political action committee and executives in the past.
The legislation, which Schuette opposed at the time, was signed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder after being approved 37-0 by the Senate and 92-18 in the House. A Blue Cross-financed endowment fund created through the restructuring is spending $120 million over five years to dampen the impact of the end of the freeze on Medigap rates.
Whitmer spokesman Zack Pohl said the law "held the insurance companies accountable and was a necessary step to ensure hundreds of thousands of Michiganders received health care." He noted that Schuette's running mate, former state Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons, voted for it.
"Schuette didn't support this bipartisan legislation because he has never supported making health care more accessible or affordable until a few weeks ago when he found himself down in the polls," Pohl said.
When the Blue Cross law was debated and enacted, supporters said the insurer had to be modernized to prepare for the federal health care law and to participate in an online exchange where the uninsured shop for insurance. In 2016, it was estimated that the endowment fund subsidies would help about 80,000 of the state's 400,000 people who buy Medigap coverage. Blue Cross previously had spent about $200 million a year, or 1 percent of revenue, to lower the cost of its Medigap policies.
Also Wednesday, Whitmer launched two new, 15-second TV ads in the Detroit market in which Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan highlights her effort to expand Medicaid to 680,000 residents and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy touts Whitmer's work targeting domestic abusers and aiding rape victims as the interim prosecutor for Ingham County.
A group backed by the Democratic Governors Association on Tuesday began airing a TV ad in which Whitmer says she wants to fix the roads because drivers are paying hundreds of dollars a year to repair vehicle damage caused by potholes.