• WisPolitics

Budget plays politics with health care

By Julie Lassa

The column below reflects the views of the author, and these opinions are neither endorsed nor supported by WisOpinion.com .

Recently, I heard from a constituent who had to leave her job to take care of her severely autistic son. Her family relies on BadgerCare Plus to pay for his intensive medical needs, and she is terrified that the changes proposed in the Governor's budget may make them ineligible for the program. Without it, she's afraid her son may have to be institutionalized.

Unless dramatic changes are made in the proposed state budget, we'll be hearing more of these heartbreaking stories from individuals and families throughout Wisconsin. Tens of thousands of people currently covered by BadgerCare will lose coverage if the provisions go through, and the plan will cost Wisconsin taxpayers hundreds of millions in unnecessary spending.

The budget makes a number of changes that will have a devastating impact on thousands of Wisconsin households. It fails to take advantage of federal funding for comprehensive Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. By accepting this funding and getting some of our federal tax dollars back, Wisconsin could insure 90,000 more people and save $100 million.

Instead, the Governor's plan makes it harder to qualify for BadgerCare by dropping the eligibility requirement from 133 percent of the federal poverty level down to 100 percent, which will result in 95,000 people losing BadgerCare benefits, including 87,000 parents. A family of four with an annual income over $23,550 a year would no longer be eligible. The budget would allow childless adults who make $11,490 a year or less to gain coverage, but because the state has rejected the Medicaid expansion funds, federal funds will only cover 59 percent of the cost, instead of 100 percent under the Affordable Care Act.

The Governor claims to be expanding health care coverage to over 224,000 people, but in fact most of them will have to rely on the federal health care exchanges established under the federal Affordable Care Act, if they can afford to pay the premiums and necessary co-pays.

It doesn't have to be this way. We need only look across the border to Minnesota, where more than 133,000 more people now have health care coverage and state taxpayers will save $129 million over the next two years. By taking advantage of the federal provisions to expand Medicaid eligibility, we could make BadgerCare available to both families and childless adults up to 133 percent of the poverty level. This option would cover 90,000 more people and save Wisconsin taxpayers $100 million. My Democratic colleagues on the Joint Finance Committee tried to put that plan in place, but were voted down along party lines.

These cuts affect more than the low income individuals who will lose their health care coverage. With their coverage lost, people will defer getting medical treatment until their conditions are so serious that they have to go to hospital emergency rooms, where they will be treated regardless of their ability to pay. All of us will pay a high price for that treatment as hospitals pass this cost along to other patients, which contributes to the soaring cost of health care and higher insurance premiums.

As the New York Times recently editorialized, "State Republicans have made poor people the victims of their ideological resistance to President Obama and his health care law." It's time we stopped playing politics with peoples' health - and with their lives.

-- Lassa, D-Stevens Point, represents Wisconsin's 24th Senate District.

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