Every time I read about Wisconsin's plan to remove thousands of people off of the state's highly successful and nationally recognized BadgerCare program, I'm baffled. The state Department of Health Services has held several listening sessions, and I've spoken twice in front of Secretary Dennis Smith. He even held my baby.I think state officials are trying to find solutions. But at the same time, the solutions they are looking at still exclude working families with low incomes and no affordable health care options. It's as if monetary concerns now far outweigh the concerns of people's basic welfare. Health care is a primary need; you cannot function without your health. Yet so many people cannot afford basic care. People should matter more than money.
Unfortunately, the cuts being proposed will seriously affect people - regular hard-working people trying to raise their families. My family is one of the tens of thousands of Wisconsin families at risk of losing our BadgerCare coverage.
My husband is employed full time at a nonprofit organization, and our annual household income hovers around 133% of the federal poverty level for our family of five, which includes our three children, ages 9 months to 6 years. His employer offers a health plan, but the premium costs $15,000 a year, almost half of our total income. There's no way we could afford it.
While health insurance costs have skyrocketed, reaping billions of dollars in profits for the CEOs of the major health insurance companies, salaries for working people have remained stagnant. For us, like so many other working families, health care means BadgerCare.
So what do these proposed changes mean to us? DHS has laid out two scenarios:
The first is to implement a plan - one that requires federal approval - that would ratchet up monthly premiums and co-pays based on family income, while shrinking the range of services covered. This plan means monthly premiums increasing from $10 to more than $100 for families just getting by. It means paying hundreds of dollars more in out-of-pocket costs. It means worse coverage.
If this plan passes, health care will no longer be affordable for families like mine. Thousands of us will be forced to choose between buying groceries and buying insurance. With three little mouths to feed, which do you think we'll be forced to choose?
The other option - again, self-imposed by this administration - is equally bad: If the federal government doesn't approve the DHS plan, the state will lower the income eligibility level to 133% of the federal poverty level, the lowest allowed by federal law, which happens to be just about what my household brings in. About 53,000 Wisconsinites will be shut out of coverage, most likely including members of my family. For us, it's a lose-lose situation.
Gov. Scott Walker says budget problems have left "no choice" but to kick thousands of people off of BadgerCare and Medicaid. This is not true. These dramatic changes could be avoided by rolling back about a quarter of the tax cuts the Legislature has handed out to corporations and the wealthy this year. Smith keeps saying what a good value BadgerCare would still be after the proposed changes. Again, this is not true. How can anything be considered a "good deal" if you simply can't afford to pay for it?
The listening sessions held by DHS have not gone unappreciated. However, with the announcement of either drastic cuts or extremely increased fees, it seems clear that Walker and Smith are out of touch with the financial realities of working people in Wisconsin. They apparently don't understand what it means to have to decide each month which bills get paid and which can be put off or between buying your child a decent pair of shoes and paying a third of your income for health insurance. You can't buy something if you don't have the money to pay for it.
The people of Wisconsin need Smith to rework this plan and figure out a way to reduce health care costs without increasing the number of uninsured Wisconsinites. More uninsured people only ends up increasing health care costs for all of us. Wisconsin needs BadgerCare to remain viable and strong to protect and uphold the general welfare of its people.
Jessica Jaglowski lives in Milwaukee.