Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Families can't afford Walker health cuts

By Sandy Pasch and Jon Richards
Nov. 21, 2011 |(51) Comments
Wisconsinites have experienced many attacks on our shared values since Scott Walker became governor. Among the most shocking is his administration's plan to kick an estimated 65,000 individuals off their health care while choosing to give $2.3 billion in tax breaks to big corporations and special interests.
How did we get to this draconian situation? Walker's budget and budget adjustment bills granted his administration nearly carte blanche authority to rush through sweeping changes to our state's vital health programs with scant legislative oversight and little-to-no opportunity for thorough public review.
The ramifications of this power grab became apparent when the Walker administration unveiled its rushed plan to slash more than one-half billion dollars from our state's medical assistance programs. The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates that Walker's plan could kick almost 65,000 individuals off our state's health programs. Among those who could lose health care are 29,120 children. This number would grow if parents simply miss a single premium payment.
If this plan is not approved by the federal government under a seemingly unattainable deadline imposed by the Walker administration itself, his administration would kick roughly 53,000 Wisconsin residents off their health coverage. It is clear that Walker has set up a clear lose-lose situation for thousands of our most vulnerable citizens.
The timing is terrible. Many Wisconsinites have lost their jobs, and many employers are eliminating health-insurance coverage for their employees - resulting in more individuals relying on BadgerCare programs for basic health needs. These programs actually prevent unnecessary and more costly emergency room use.
Unfortunately, under the Walker plan, uncompensated care could increase up to $60 million, which will be passed on to taxpayers through cost shifting and higher insurance premiums. Moreover, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Wisconsin has lost access to approximately $293 million in federal funds due to the Walker administration failing to invest $190 million in state funds within our medical assistance programs.
Shared sacrifice and tough decisions are necessary to address the difficult fiscal issues and health care crisis facing our state. Changes to make our state's health programs more cost-effective and efficient must be on the table. However, these changes should have been considered in an inclusive, accountable and evidence-based manner that allowed for ample public input and legislative oversight. And while there are some elements of the proposal that we support, the package as a whole deals a significant blow to the years of progress our state has made to ensure affordable access to quality health coverage.
To restore accountability and oversight to these life-altering decisions, we have authored legislation that would eliminate the far-reaching powers granted to DHS and bring back public input to changes being made to Wisconsin's health safety nets. This would ensure that the public will again have a voice in important decisions that impact the health of our state.
Unfortunately, instead of slowing down and allowing for more scrutiny of serious concerns and answers to questions surrounding their proposal, this administration chose to rush through its proposal that will end up punishing some of the neediest and youngest Wisconsinites through misguided, ideological decisions. Their continued willingness to place big corporations and special interests before the health of our communities exposes a pattern of decisions that Wisconsinites can no longer afford.
Rep. Sandy Pasch (D-Whitefish Bay) represents the 22nd Assembly District. Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) represents the 19th Assembly District.

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