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May 12, 2009 -- The latest proposal to change how health care coverage is provided in Michigan attempts to extend consumer protections and create a new fund to help cover those facing catastrophic illness.

Democrats who control the Michigan House are scheduled to detail their plan Monday at events across the state. The plan would expand MIChild, the state's health care program for children. All health insurers in the Michigan market would be called upon to contribute to a catastrophic protection plan to aid patients whose medical claims top $25,000 a year.

Supporters of the House Democrats' plan say it would improve access to health care coverage by requiring insurance companies to cover people who have pre-existing conditions such as cancer or diabetes. Insurers would be banned from raising rates on individuals who become sick.

The Democratic plan will compete with Republican legislation due to be introduced within the next week in the state Senate. Sponsors of the Republican proposal say it will focus on helping the more than 1.2 million people in Michigan who don't have health insurance.

Both proposals expand upon the individual health insurance market debate in the Legislature for the past few years. The Democrat-led House and Republican-led Senate could not reach a compromise on the individual market changes in 2008 so they are revamping their plans this year.

The individual market offers policies for people who don't have insurance coverage through employers or the government. That number is growing in Michigan as the economy worsens. But the price of individual market policies has soared, making it unaffordable for some.

Rep. Marc Corriveau, D-Northville and chairman of the House Health Policy Committee, said changes are needed in Michigan beyond the individual market. Corriveau also said Michigan should not wait for whatever policies are adopted by President Barack Obama's administration and the Democrat-led Congress before addressing its own problems.

"This is attempting to fix a broken system," Corriveau said. "We need to stabilize the market in our state."

Sen. Tom George, a Republican from Texas Township in Kalamazoo County and chairman of the Senate Health Policy Committee, already has had several meetings across the state to develop health care proposals that should be introduced within the next week.

George noted that the ranks of Michigan's uninsured, estimated at 1.2 million just a few years ago, likely has grown in recent months with the deterioration of the economy. The upcoming Senate bills would aim to make basic individual health policies more affordable, possibly by subsidizing the cost. The resulting lower prices could entice some who now go uninsured to buy coverage.

Both George and Corriveau said they hope their proposals will have some overlap and soon lead to a consensus in the Legislature.

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