ELKHORN

Most people on both sides of the political aisle believe the nation’s health care system needs reform.

Of course, ideas for how to fix it are as varied and complex as the current system.

Republicans in the Legislature cut Gov. Tony Evers’ plan to expand Medicaid from the state budget this summer. Democrats said this week they will push for expansion again, although the two sides show no sign of reaching a compromise.

Until major changes happen to health care, some low-income residents will need to rely on clinics that provide free medical services.

Evers toured two such facilities Thursday, including Open Arms Free Clinic in Elkhorn. His visits promoted additional funding for rural safety-net clinics and state dental programs that were included in the biennial budget.

The funding increases include an additional $1.3 million for safety-net clinics over the next two years. The budget also provides an additional $625,000 for advanced dental services and school-based sealant programs during the same time period, according to an Evers news release.

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Gov. Tony Evers, right, speaks to the Rev. Daniel Sanders on Thursday at Open Arms Free Clinic in Elkhorn. Sanders founded the clinic.

Evers started his Thursday tours in Beaver Dam before heading to Walworth County. Department of Health Services Secretary-designee Andrea Palm joined him.

When the governor arrived at Open Arms, staff greeted him with information about how the clinic operates and what types of services it offers. Patients passed by the tour group en route to appointments.

Open Arms provides medical, dental and eye care, among other services.

Dental program coordinator Mary Beth Egert told Evers the clinic wants to do more preventive care, but many people postpone seeing a doctor until they have a serious problem. The goal is to “have health, not treat disease,” she said.

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Gov. Tony Evers, left, tours the Open Arms Free Clinic on Thursday to promote new state health care funding. The Elkhorn clinic offers medical, dental and eye care to low-income residents in Walworth County.

The Rev. Daniel Sanders, the clinic’s founder, said the need for Open Arms is evident even in Walworth County, a relatively affluent area of the state. The county has pockets of “hidden poverty” and a lack of access to medical care.

The elderly, homeless and undocumented immigrants are among those who struggle to find care, he said.

After the tour finished, Evers told a Gazette reporter that clinics such as Open Arms are valuable because the hidden need is everywhere. Some families are working multiple jobs just to tread financial water, he said.

“There’s a lot of anxiety in this state. We like to say, ‘Well, we have 3% unemployment. Everything is fine,’” Evers said. “Everything isn’t fine.”

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