Wednesday, June 27, 2012

More Craziness from Michigan

A while ago I wrote about a story involving Michigan legislators targeting universities for political reasons. Lost in the kerfuffle over Teresa Sullivan's firing a couple of weeks ago was another tidbit from Michigan about state legislators meddling in minor university matters they don't understand.
Michigan State U. Says Controversial Insurance Mandate Affected Few Students
The meat of the issue is here:
The state budget, recently passed by the Legislature, bars Michigan State from mandating health insurance if the institution is to qualify for a small increase in state appropriations
There are a couple of notable points here. First, the state budget specifically targeted MSU on this, even though universities across the state (and across the country) have similar policies. So much for Equal Protection Under the Law. Second, it turns out that the "problem" wasn't much of a problem at all:
In the past, about 85 percent of students arrived on the campus already insured, said Lou Anna K. Simon, president of Michigan State. And after the university helped most of the uninsured find coverage, only about 600 students were left without insurance
So the "crisis" that demanded state legislative action affected only 600 students out of over 47,000 - a little more than 1% of the student population. And MSU's sin? Signing those students up for health insurance and then charging them $1500 a year for it.

So why would a state legislature write specific language into its budget to punish a specific university for doing something that universities across the land do?
Michigan State was singled out for its insurance mandate because one of the 600 students who was billed for insurance was the son of a lawmaker, Rep. Jeff Farrington, a Republican. His son had insurance but had not informed the university. Representative Farrington was instrumental in placing the restriction on Michigan State's insurance requirement, according to several sources.
The son of a state lawmaker makes a paperwork error - his mistake - and has an insurance plan added to his bill. Rather than simply correct the mistake, the father decides to rewrite the state budget to tell the university what to do for all students.

If this kind of shoot-from-the-hip-while-blindfolded legislating is a frequent occurrence in the Michigan state legislature - and there's evidence that it is - the state's universities may have a rough time of it in the coming years. Perhaps the voters of Michigan can find a few more representatives willing to think, to learn, and to deliberate - things they teach in universities - before they try to impose their will on the world.

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