The future of Michigan’s public health care system could flourish or flounder under the leadership of the next governor. At a gubernatorial forum last night, the candidates for governor discussed their plans to strengthen public health care through an increase in taxes and reallocation of funding.

Paul Wong
State Sen. John Schwarz (R-Battle Creek) speaks last night at a forum for gubernatorial candidates.(LESLIE WARD/Daily)

“The executive leader has neglected public health care in the state,” said Patti Kukula, deputy director of the Wayne County Health Department, who spoke on behalf of gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Jennifer Granholm. “We are at the bottom concerning health care.”

Only two of the three Republican candidates, one Green Party candidate and representatives for the three Democratic candidates attended the forum.

The panelists included State Sen. John Schwarz (R-Battle Creek), Republican Edward Hamilton and Green Party member Douglas Campbell. Speaking on behalf of the three democratic candidates – U.S. Rep. David Bonior (D-Mt. Clemens), former Gov. James Blanchard and Granholm – were Sen. Alma Wheeler Smith (D-Salem Twp.), Policy and Field Coordinator Christopher Trebilcock and Kukula, respectively. Republican candidate Dick Posthumus neither appeared to answer questions nor sent a proxy to represent his views.

Responding to the possibility of a tax hike for health care funding and nursing home funding, candidates generally eluded the yes-or-no answer requested by Sederburg. Schwarz said he supported a postponement of the tax cuts, a 6-percent sales tax on hospital payments and a 25 cent hike on cigarette tax.

Invoking former President Bush’s aphorism against taxes, Hamilton said, “Read my lips, no new taxes. … I’m against taking young people’s money so that I can stay alive to the age of 95.”

“Everyone is going to die sooner or later,” he added.

Candidates also discussed the need to provide broader health care options to the public through taxation. “Some people view health care as a privilege, not as a right,” Smith said. “We need to change that attitude.”

“We need a complete overhaul,” Kukula said. “Hospitals cannot go on treating. … Public health needs to reprioritize.”

Schwarz responded to the hope of universal health care coverage doubtfully after an audience member’s question about coverage for poor and uninsured people.

“There will never be a satisfactory answer of how to get everyone under the umbrella,” he said.

Concerning health care funding, many of the candidates suggested cutting merit scholarship funding, which takes up 75 percent of the tobacco settlement money. Schwarz and Hamilton said they would not cut money to fund merit scholarships, while Smith, Trebilcock and Kukula favored using the money for health care spending.

The gubernatorial forum was held at the Michigan League and was sponsored and organized by the Student Association for Health Policy.

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