BadgerCare cuts are step backward for Wisconsin
Gov. Scott Walker is threatening to cut 53,000 people off BadgerCare unless the federal government approves a waiver from national standards. As bad as that sounds, the damage caused if the federal government approves Walker’s request may be even worse.
The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau concludes that if the Walker administration gets its way, more than 67,000 people will lose BadgerCare, including more than 29,000 children.
The issue is much simpler than Gov. Walker and his allies make it sound. The complex changes his administration has devised are a smokescreen for forcing tens of thousands of people off BadgerCare in order to enable Walker’s plan to slash $554 million from Wisconsin’s Medicaid programs. It’s that simple.
This would be a major step back from Wisconsin values. BadgerCare is a Wisconsin success story that guarantees health security for more than 775,000 people. In addition to low-income children, parents and adults, more than 337,000 Wisconsinites with cancer, diabetes, lung disease and heart disease rely on BadgerCare and Medicaid for coverage.
The rational for BadgerCare is stronger now than it was when Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson initiated it. BadgerCare has enjoyed bipartisan support because it grew out of a consensus that health insurance companies have utterly failed to provide coverage that is affordable for lower-income working families struggling to lift themselves into the middle class.
Since BadgerCare was launched in 1999, the health insurance cost crisis has intensified. Insurance premiums have nearly doubled at the same time that real wages have declined. The worst economic downturn since the Great Depression caused 162,000 Wisconsinites to lose their employer-based health insurance, leaving BadgerCare as the last resort for many.
Shockingly, the Walker administration fails to even admit this crisis. Walker’s insurance commissioner recently claimed that the large health insurance companies have kept premiums “manageable,” a view not shared by most Wisconsin families and businesses.
The Walker administration has misleadingly created the impression that it has no choice but to slash BadgerCare. The fact is that Gov. Walker made a conscious choice in his state budget not to ask the wealthy and large corporations to bear their fair shares of the sacrifice.
Wisconsin must come to grips with rising health insurance costs, but shifting unaffordable costs on to those least able to afford them does not reduce costs. Slashing BadgerCare actually increases the cost of private insurance, which will end up footing part of the bill for emergency room visits and other uncompensated care for the newly uninsured and underinsured.
The Affordable Care Act, the new national health care law, includes reforms that will focus medical spending on prevention and disease management, reducing costly specialty care and lowering health care costs in the long term. Scott Walker wants to repeal this law without offering any viable alternative.
The Legislature should reverse Gov. Walker’s dangerous attack on BadgerCare and get to work on bringing health insurance costs under control.
Robert Kraig is executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, a grass-roots consumer advocacy organization at 221 S. 2nd St., Suite 300S, Milwaukee, WI 53204; phone (414) 322-5324; email firstname.lastname@example.org.