Monday, October 31, 2011

DHS Rushes Process to Take Away Health Care Coverage from Working Families

Submits Waiver After Inadequate Time for Public Input and too Many Unanswered Questions

Madison – Late this afternoon, the Department of Health Services (DHS) delivered to the Joint Finance Committee a proposal to increase costs, make eligibility and enrollment more difficult, and decrease benefits for families in the BadgerCare and Medicaid program. The Save BadgerCare Coalition is disappointed with the substance of the proposal to cut over $500 million, as well as process in which DHS brought it to the Joint Finance Committee. Despite holding two town hall meetings last week where attendees overwhelmingly expressed opposition, anxiety and frustration over the impending cuts, DHS continued to rushing through its plans to kick working families off of their health care coverage, a decision that will be disastrous for working families and Wisconsin’s small businesses.

“Working families across Wisconsin need sufficient time and information to digest the drastic changes being proposed,” said Sara Finger, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health and Save BadgerCare Coalition Coordinator. “The public hearings arranged by the Department were insufficient in answering the scores of unanswered questions on the proposals and truly addressing enrollee concerns. This was an irresponsible and disrespectful way to make these kind of critical policy decisions”

The provisions granting unprecedented authority to DHS to make changes to Medicaid and BadgerCare with limited legislative oversight were made in the budget this summer, however it took until September 30th for any details of the plans to make half a billion dollars in cuts to be made public. Wisconsinites who depend on BadgerCare were asked for input on proposals with a significant lack of detail, and according to scoring by a well-known measure of health literacy, more difficult to read than the Harvard Law Review.

DHS put themselves, and over 1.1 million Wisconsinites who depend on BadgerCare, in a no-win situation with this proposal. Before the Joint Finance Committee is a waiver of the “maintenance of effort” provisions of the federal health reform law, which restricts state’s ability to reduce eligibility or made changes that suppress enrollment. If this waiver is not granted by December 31, 2011, the budget states that DHS must cut approximately 53,000 adults off the program. Both the waiver, and the action mandated by the budget if the waiver is not approved, would effectively increase the numbers of uninsured Wisconsinites – which shifts costs and increases uncompensated care.

“We need a balanced approach to reforming and streamlining Medicaid,” said Ken Taylor, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, a lead coalition member.  “With so much at stake for Wisconsin families, we need to consider alternatives to this DHS plan, ones that will not increase the number of uninsured Wisconsinites.”

The Coalition finds it unacceptable that these remarkably effective—and cost-effective—programs are at risk of being gutted on such short notice, while alternative methods for increasing efficiencies and revenues, and finding cost savings have not even been seriously entertained. There are better alternatives in the legislature; to remove the impossible bind DHS has put themselves in with regard to the timeline and elimination of coverage for 53,000 adults. Save BadgerCare will continue to participate in public hearings with legislators across the state, including La Crosse today, and Wausau, Oshkosh, Eau Claire, and Green Bay in the coming weeks, to solicit further public input and provide an opportunity for residents to learn more about the proposed cuts.

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