Leading Republicans urged patience while they begin seeking an alternative to the proposed Medicaid expansion bill, and they used their majority to defeat a Democratic attempt to force a vote on the House-passed legislation, voting 18-12, mostly along party lines, not to advance it out of committee for a full vote.
The chamber was prepped for a summer renovation, which made for a bizarre scene at the Capitol. Senators stood in the back of the chamber, which no longer had carpeting or desks, and they were confined to designated areas by yellow caution tape. Meanwhile, the gallery was crowded with advocates for the uninsured.
Attendance originally wasn't going to be taken at the session because no voting was expected, but that changed after Democrats promised to show up and demand a vote. Realizing the bad optics, many Republicans attended, too.
Majority Leader Randy Richardville convened his committee before the session and outlined his expectations for a workgroup he hopes will propose an alternative to the House legislation. No testimony was taken in the packed hearing room.
"The Senate Republicans stand alone in their ignorance and obstinance," said Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whiter, an East Lansing Democrat who with other Democrats told stories about people in need of health coverage.
Richardville, a Monroe Republican, plans to hold another hearing in two weeks, allow testimony and get an update from the eight-member workgroup. The group is expected to meet twice a week and give Richardville a progress report every other week.
"I do understand how important this issue to people on both sides of it and those that are in the middle as well," he said. "We don't have a bill in front us. House Bill 4174 ... is not the final product that we're going to be looking at."
The GOP-dominated chamber is under pressure from Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to act this month or next after leaving June 20 without voting a week after it cleared the GOP-led House with bipartisan support. He's traveling to hospitals across the state to push for a Medicaid expansion plan called "Healthy Michigan" — which he says would save money because the uninsured would have primary care coverage instead of going to the emergency room for expensive care.
Snyder, who held a round-table discussion with small business owners to make his case Wednesday, has said he needs time to seek waivers from the federal government if Michigan is to cover 320,000 more residents starting Jan. 1.
But Senate Republicans are concerned about a large expansion of government under the federal health care law, and Richardville said the Senate deserves some time to come up with a better bill. While backers of the House bill say it would have passed with Democratic and some Republican support last month, Richardville said it would have gone down in defeat.
"I think that by the end of July we will have something the committee can consider," Richardville said. "Whether or not the committee votes on it or not is a decision I will make at that time."
Snyder agreed that holding a vote Wednesday wouldn't have been viable. He thanked senators for their "positive action" — having a committee meeting and forming the workgroup — but also continued to encourage citizens to contact their senators and ask them to vote.
Meanwhile, the governor said a newly announced one-year delay of the federal law's requirement that companies with 50 or more full-time employees offer coverage or face fines won't affect his Medicaid push. The issue of uncompensated costs being passed along to premiums paid by employers and individuals still remains, he said.
"That was another feature and problem area that encouraged businesses to be proactive. It doesn't really affect anyone here right now," Snyder said in a meeting with small business owners. "But it's this uncompensated cost issue in terms of the small business side. So it doesn't change the fundamentals of why Healthy Michigan ... is critically important."