Thursday, August 2, 2012

Walker should accept, and implement, new health law

By Sara Finger
July 28, 2012 4:00 p.m.
Recently, the Washington Post published an op-ed by Gov. Scott Walker on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Governor Walker's column selectively uses data and ignores the many ways the ACA will benefit our state. Implementation of the ACA is far too critical to the lives, health and economic well-being of all Wisconsinites to be prisoner to partisan politics.
Walker was right about one thing. Wisconsin has been a national leader in extending health care coverage. BadgerCare and Medicaid in our state were developed on a bipartisan basis with BadgerCare started by Gov. Tommy Thompson. The programs provide nearly 1.2 million individuals and working families in our state paths to cost-effective health care. The ACA gives us the opportunity to continue that tradition and to stabilize and improve BadgerCare through the use of enhanced federal Medicaid reimbursements, all while lowering the state's percentage of the program's cost.
With the ACA, Wisconsin has the option of offering BadgerCare to adults below 133% of the federal poverty line ($25,390/year for a family of three) who do not currently qualify. This expansion would offer affordable coverage to over 200,000 of our fellow residents.
While strengthening BadgerCare through the ACA is the right thing to do, it will also improve the state's bottom line. Under the health care law, the federal government will pay between 100% to 90% of the costs for newly eligible participants in BadgerCare. And, there is good reason to believe Wisconsin will not face even this very small share of the cost. Outside analysts estimate that, nationally, states' share of Medicaid spending will fall by $39 billion over the first five years of the Medicaid expansion and that states and local governments will save more than $100 billion over that period in other state pro grams that serve the uninsured.
Wisconsin has a myriad moral and economic reasons to move forward with extended Medicaid coverage. First, strengthening BadgerCare reduces the annual shift of nearly $1 billion from uncompensated care costs such as uncovered emergency room visits in Wisconsin hospitals. Currently, we all pay for uncompensated care in the form of higher health care costs and premiums. If Wisconsin fails to address the problem of uncompensated care, the burden of higher health care costs will continue to grow for everyone in our state.
Second, the ACA's federal funding promotes prevention and wellness and can offset other state programs that pay to prevent the consequences of untreated illness. Consider the millions of dollars that counties and the state spend on treatments like mental health. For low-income adults, most of these treatment costs would be paid by the federal government through the ACA, and the state would be spared the costs that arise when mental illness is left untreated - such as those incurred by our corrections system or for substance abuse.
Refusing the ACA's Medicaid expansion funds for BadgerCare would also depress the private sector. Wisconsin is home to a world-class health care industry, which makes up a significant portion of our economy and touches every county in the state. Eleven of the top 25 employers in the state are in the health care business. Over the last 18 months, Wisconsin has been near the very bottom of the nation in job growth. We simply cannot afford to turn away significant resources to grow jobs in a key sector. If Wisconsin does not expand BadgerCare, our leaders will have chosen to ship our federal tax dollars to Illinois, Minnesota and other states to invest in health care and jobs there, all while our state's health and economy deteriorates.
We call on the governor and our legislative leaders to do what is right for our communities and state and move forward to ensure all Wisconsinites have access to health care through a program that saves lives, money and strengthens our economy.

Sara Finger is the Save BadgerCare Coalition coordinator and executive director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Health.

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