Sunday, November 13, 2011

Rally decries BadgerCare cuts

A handful of local residents and state lawmakers railed Friday evening against recently approved cuts to Medicaid that some said could push thousands off the medical assistance program.
The state Legislature's Joint Finance Committee on Thursday approved about $225 million in Medicaid cuts. As many as 65,000 adults and children no longer would afford or be eligible for health insurance programs.
"I'm angry," Eau Claire resident Sara Thielen, a registered nurse at a local Planned Parenthood clinic, said during a public hearing in Eau Claire about the cuts. " … It's not who we are. We care about each other, we care about our children."
Democratic state lawmakers led Friday's hearing, which drew a crowd of more than 30 people, at Chippewa Valley Technical College. State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout and Senate Minority Leader Mark Miller attended. So did state Reps. Chris Danou and Janet Bewler.
After a presentation about the cuts and comments by lawmakers, several in the audience spoke against changes to Medicaid.
"Is this really the progressive state of Wisconsin that I grew up in?" asked Rachel Fleming, a social work student at UW-Eau Claire.
Sara Finger, coordinator for the Save BadgerCare Coalition, said the changes would lead to higher premiums for people on BadgerCare, a state Medicaid program that offers health insurance to elderly and other needy people.
"This makes higher out-of-pocket costs for hard-working Wisconsin families that don't often have much else to give," Finger said of higher premiums.
Finger's coalition comprises health care providers, disability rights advocates and other groups working to sustain BadgerCare.
State Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, acknowledged in a phone interview Friday that premium costs would increase for some people. But he said only people whose incomes are 150 percent or more of the federal poverty level would pay the increased premiums, and noted costs still would be lower than what most public or private-sector employees pay for their health insurance.
President Barack Obama's administration still must sign off on about half of the total cuts to Medicaid.
The state Department of Health Services plan would shift more than 200,000 families enrolled in BadgerCare Plus into cheaper programs with reduced benefits. The plan also forces people off the program if they have access to affordable insurance through their employer. Young adults with access to coverage through their parents also would be removed.
"The Department of Health Services proposed to basically kick people off of BadgerCare if they were offered employer-sponsored insurance," Finger said, noting some people can't afford their employers' health plans, meaning they could lose their insurance altogether.
"It's not only inhumane, it's un-American," Rep. Danou, D-Trempealeau, said of the changes.
In a written statement, DHS deputy secretary Kitty Rhoades pointed out Gov. Scott Walker added $1.2 billion in new state funding to Medicaid under the current state budget — "the first increase in state funding for Medicaid since the 2005-2007 biennial budget." But even with the extra money, Rhoades said, her department still had to cut about $500 million to balance the budget.
Grothman also took issue with claims that Republicans were kicking people off their insurance plans; only those who shouldn't be under Medicaid would be affected.
"I think it would be accurate to say — unless a person with any common sense would say, ‘You don't belong on (Medicaid) in the first place' — nobody's being kicked off," Grothman said.
Bennett can be reached at 715-830-5832, 800-236-7077 The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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