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Health Care A Stealth Target in Wisconsin Budget Fight

The health care debate continues to boil in the states – all the more evident in Wisconsin, where a newly elected conservative majority in the state legislature is joining with Gov. Walker to eye draconian cuts to Medicaid.  As part of Gov. Walker’s budget “fix” plan that nominally promises to close a state budget gap of $3.6 billion, he is proposing a $1 billion cut to health care programs that serve the disabled, elderly, and low-income residents currently served through BadgerCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

Gov. Walker’s intended assault on the middle-class in this bill is blatantly clear: both through his attacks on workers’ collective bargaining rights as well as through his attack on the health security of hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin residents. His plan to weaken the BadgerCare program by reducing legislative oversight could end up negatively impacting approximately 700,000 Wisconsin residents. The Governor wants to allow the Secretary of Health, who came from a recent job at the Heritage Foundation, to be able to change the requirements for enrollment, premium charges, and other basic parameters -- resulting in potential losses of coverage due to lack of affordability, loss of coverage altogether, or losing the federal matching funds that currently account for about 60% of the total funding for the program.

In addition to weakening Medicaid, Gov. Walker has also called on unionized public employees to pay an additional 12.6 percent of their premiums for health care coverage. The increase in out-of-pocket expenses comes on top of already unprecedented increases in health insurance premiums -- in the last decade alone Wisconsin premiums have increased by 179 percent, compared to the national average of 120 percent. At a time when families are strapped, the question for states remains whether to push that cost onto the very people who can’t afford it, or to pass accountability and cost control measures through strong state exchanges provided for in the federal health care law in order to keep increases reasonable and costs in check? (Hopefully for Wisconsin families, pragmatic voices will not be completely silenced as the state continues to move forward on implementing the law even while the Attorney General fights for it to be ruled unconstitutional in court.)

To put this in perspective, Wisconsin was formerly a leader in health care. They were one of the first states to implement a Welfare-to-Work program under a Republican governor where eligible enrollees could keep their coverage when individuals went back to work. Also, the state senate in 2007 was the first to pass a comprehensive health care reform package (called “Healthy Wisconsin”) aimed at improving cost control, coverage, and consumer choice. Even though it did not pass the full Assembly, the proposal was a first in the nation.

It is clear from his full agenda that Gov. Walker’s priorities do not include the health security of Wisconsin families. Rather than ensuring his states’ residents have access to quality, affordable health care, he is instead dead-set on realizing a conservative ideological vision -- shared by many of his colleagues in governors’ seats across the nation -- of weakening public programs instead of making them more efficient. In the end, it’s Wisconsin families that will lose out, and the the most vulnerable residents who will suffer needlessly.

Full Resources from this Article

Health Care A Stealth Target in Wisconsin Budget Fight

The Cap Times-Vital Signs: Budget repair bill gives Walker free hand to revamp, cut Medicaid programs
The New Republic-Public Workers Aren't Walker's Only Target
Citizen Action of Wisconsin -Wisconsin Health Insurance Cost Rankings 2010
Citizen Action of Wisconsin -Healthy Wisconsin Resource Center
Bloomberg -Wisconsin proceeding with health care law

This article is part of PSN's email newsletter, The Stateside Dispatch.
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