Tag Archives: badgercare

Wisconsin projects $100 million shortfall under current budget

Wisconsin is expected to take in $100 million less in revenue than it expected by the end of the 2015–17 budget, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported today.

The shortfall is the result of a $158.2 million decrease in projected tax collection. Some spending will have to be cut from the budget.

Democrats said that tax revenues have fallen short because Republicans have failed to generate jobs that would increase Wisconsinites’ take-home pay. Several noted the irony of the news coming so closely on the heals of Gov. Scott Walker’s State of the State address, during which he touted the state’s economy and finances under his leadership.

Walker has slashed many state programs in order to provide large tax breaks to the wealthy and to corporations. That strategy, known as “trickle-down” economics, has been the mainstay of the GOP’s financial strategy for nearly four decades.

“Big tax breaks for businesses do not trickle down to the pockets of our citizens,” said state Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton. “Let’s try something new like prioritizing funding for education, increasing the minimum wage and roll back some business tax breaks in favor of middle class tax cuts. We know what works to improve the economy, unfortunately there is not a Republican out there that will consider proven solutions.”

Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said, “The first step toward improving our state’s finances is accepting federal BadgerCare funds to provide health care to roughly 80,000 Wisconsinites at a savings of more than $300 million to taxpayers over the next two years.”

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D–La Crosse, said, “Democrats will continue to fight for investments in local schools, worker training and infrastructure projects to create jobs and move our state forward.”

The budget shortfall comes after Wisconsin experienced the worst year for mass layoffs and plant closing since 2010 last year.

But the shortfall for 2015 is better than the $2 billion deficit the state had leading into the 2015–17 budget negotiations.

Open enrollment for health insurance begins in Wisconsin

Wisconsin residents started shopping for coverage on the federally run health insurance exchange when its second open enrollment period began Nov. 15.

The Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance says about 166,000 people signed up for insurance during the open enrollment period that ended March 31. Health care experts say they expect about the same number this time.

The online marketplace is meant for people who aren’t covered by employer-offered insurance plans or government programs, such as Medicare and BadgerCare, the Medicaid program in Wisconsin.

The marketplace offers subsidized private insurance for single people earning about $47,000 or less per year and families with incomes of up to $128,000.

People must sign up by Dec. 15 for coverage to start Jan. 1.

Citizen Action: Walker administration withholds health insurance rates

The Walker Administration — for the second consecutive year — is withholding the rates for the health insurance marketplace, according to Citizen Action of Wisconsin.

The group says the administration is leaving consumers, health advocates and policymakers in the dark and it called on the Wisconsin Office of the Insurance Commissioner to promptly release the figures. 

The deadline for 2015 rate submission for insurance companies selling marketplace plans in Wisconsin was June 27.

At that time, the OCI said it would need up to 60 days to analyze the rates.

Citizen Action of Wisconsin says two-thirds of states have released 2015 rates for healthcare.gov, in advance of the open enrollment period that begins on Nov. 15.

“Last year the Walker Administration tried to use the rate release process to spin the numbers and make misleading attacks on health care reform,” said Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “We are growing concerned that the Walker Administration will either withhold the 2015 rates until after the election, or attempt to release them in a biased and partisan fashion. Consumers and health advocates have a right to know what the insurance rates will be, and how Wisconsin stacks up with other states.”

The Republican governor, who is running for re-election against Democrat Mary Burke in November and who may run for president in 2016, is a staunch opponent of federal Affordable Care Act and the Obama administration’s efforts to expand health care opportunities.

Earlier this year, Citizen Action of Wisconsin released a report showing that marketplace rates in Wisconsin are $251 per year higher on average because of Scott Walker’s decision to reject enhanced funding for Badgercare, and $747 higher on average because of the Walker administration’s refusal to implement what CAW described as a robust rate review.

Historic assault on women’s health is underway

What a difference a year makes.

Last year I was at our state Capitol watching former Gov. Jim Doyle sign the Healthy Youth Act, a long-overdue law ensuring that Wisconsin youth get accurate and age-appropriate information in Wisconsin sex education classrooms.

Fast forward to today, when we are facing serious attacks on access to healthcare at the state and federal level.  

At the state level, I join with the chorus of tens of thousands of Wisconsinites outraged at the overreach of conservative politicians working to advance an extreme agenda in a Trojan horse barreling through a purported state of fiscal emergency.

Gov. Scott Walker, who has been a staunch opponent of reproductive healthcare his entire political career, now wants his unelected political appointees to be able to make drastic changes to Wisconsin’s successful BadgerCare Family Planning program through the so-called Budget Repair Bill, which is a power grab unlike anything we have seen before.

And in his budget proposal, Walker completely eliminates the state’s only dedicated family-planning funding stream, while pushing to allow insurance plans to exclude prescription birth control in drug plans.

The budget also gives the state Department of Health and Human Services the power to make men ineligible for reproductive healthcare under Medicaid, which currently covers HIV and other STD testing and treatment, cancer screenings and contraceptive counseling.

While all eyes are on the deep cuts for Wisconsin workers, children and families in Walker’s budget proposal, an all-out war on women is also being waged in Congress. Five of Wisconsin’s eight U.S. representatives voted to prohibit Planned Parenthood health centers from receiving any federal funds for the basic preventive healthcare we provide to millions of patients throughout the country, including more than 73,000 un- and under-insured Wisconsinites, more than 31,000 of whom seek care at our Milwaukee health centers.

One in five women has relied on Planned Parenthood for basic women’s healthcare at some point in their lives, and 60 percent of our patients consider us to be their only healthcare provider.

These same representatives also voted to eliminate Title X, America’s decades-old family planning program. We appreciate our Reps. Gwen Moore, Ron Kind and Tammy Baldwin for recognizing that, at $317 million, less than 0.1 percent of the federal budget, Title X is a small price to pay for more than 4 million lifesaving cancer screenings and over 6 million STD tests, including a million HIV tests, for women who otherwise would have nowhere to turn.

None of these funds pays for abortions.

It’s no understatement to say that the state and federal attacks mean we’re in the midst of the most aggressive political assault on women’s health in history. And while this plays out, women’s lives hang in the balance.

Take, for instance, this story: In the wake of the U.S. House vote to eliminate Title X and defund Planned Parenthood, Judy X called me and told me something remarkable: “Honestly, if it wasn’t for Planned Parenthood and Title X funding, I wouldn’t be here today.”

In the early 1990s, Judy was a divorced single mother in her mid-30s going to school and working hard to make ends meet as she raised her daughter in Waukesha. Every year, she came to Planned Parenthood for her annual exam.

One year, out of the blue, a routine pap test came back very abnormal. Planned Parenthood’s nurse referred Judy to an ob/gyn who diagnosed her with a rare form of cervical cancer. The doctor told Judy that if she had skipped her regular check-up that year, the cancer would have been very advanced by the time she showed symptoms.

Judy credits Planned Parenthood with saving her life.

In attacking Planned Parenthood, politicians who want to overturn Roe v. Wade are undermining the organization that does more than any other to prevent unintended pregnancy. In eliminating funding for reproductive healthcare, politicians are taking away the preventive healthcare currently available to 73,000 un- and under-insured Wisconsinites seeking care at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.

This reckless political assault needs to end.

Teri Huyck is president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin.

Unhealthy budget

While headlines focus on the union-busting aspect of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget, other items in the bill are also disturbing.

At the same time the governor and his GOP colleagues want to join a federal lawsuit to overturn a national law providing near-universal healthcare coverage, they also want to drop a significant number of people from the state’s Medicaid rolls.

If Walker’s budget passes, as it almost certainly will, it will raise eligibility requirements for BadgerCare, SeniorCare and FamilyCare – the state programs that cover healthcare for Wisconsinites who rely on Medicaid. The result is that 50,000 people would lose their healthcare coverage in July 2012.

There’s another big problem with Walker’s healthcare proposal. It gives broad but unspecified powers to the Department of Health Services to make any changes they believe will reduce costs to the state’s Medicaid system.

Walker and his fellow tea partiers have railed ad nauseam about the federal government’s alleged autocratic takeover of healthcare. But apparently they want to give the state unlimited control over the healthcare decisions of the one in five Wisconsinites who rely on Medicaid. And they want to do this without debate, with one fell swoop of Walker’s pen.

In contrast, Congress debated national healthcare reform for an entire year.

The Wisconsinites whose healthcare will be affected are not part of the wealthy Tea Party constituency that brought Walker to power. They believe it’s fine to balance the state budget by sacrificing the health – and perhaps the lives – of poor and working-class people. They prefer this strategy and union-busting to scaling back tax cuts to the wealthy, which they contend will create jobs that will benefit all Wisconsinites.

Even if this were true, we must not forget what kind of state Walker and the Tea Party are creating. The loss of collective bargaining rights will have a ripple effect that will eventually depress wages throughout the state’s economy. It will also destroy the only big-money counterbalance to the corporate dollars that flow into elections from the corporate right.

Destroying Wisconsin’s successful healthcare system, one that puts us near the top nationally for insuring kids, will lower the quality of life for the poor and working class, making Wisconsin a less fair and less attractive place to live.

The conservative tide: how high will it rise?

In his inaugural address, Gov. Scott Walker might have fired his administration’s opening salvo against LGBT equality when he vowed to “honor and respect the foundational role of the family in our society.”

Although most LGBT people would agree with Walker’s statement on its face value, it sounded to many like standard-issue rhetoric from the anti-gay right. “I certainly saw that line, and it certainly is a concerning line,” said Fair Wisconsin executive director Katie Belanger.

Amid the rising conservative tide in Wisconsin, as throughout the nation, LGBT citizens and political progressives are anxiously watching the Tea Party-infused GOP and searching for signs of coming struggle. Although most of the newly elected Republicans ran campaigns focused on creating jobs, eliminating deficits and reducing government, their social views are largely in step with those of the radical right.

“We can’t even see the end of the right wing they’re going to run to,” predicted Wisconsin Democratic Party chair and former Fair Wisconsin director Mike Tate.

“We know that they’re going to come out and do some very anti-LGBT stuff,” he said. “If they start persecuting LGBT people, it sends a signal right out of the gate that these people are going to dismantle the Wisconsin way of life.”

But Belanger was relieved that the first round of legislation proposed by the incoming GOP did not include a measure to repeal the state’s domestic partner registry. “It’s really going to be interesting to see how closely (Republicans) stick to their jobs agenda,” she said. “Hopefully, they’ll stick to the jobs development stuff, but it’s something that we’re really watching.”

For now, Belanger is taking a wait-and-see approach about the new Republican majority. So is Bill Keeton, director of government relations for the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin. While Belanger is concerned about the domestic partner registry, Keeton will focus on the GOP’s proposal for HIV/AIDS-related funding and Medicaid programs.

During his campaign, Walker made conflicting statements about cutting the state’s BadgerCare program. Various sources estimated that he would enact policies to eliminate between 68,000 and 350,000 people from healthcare coverage under the program, which includes many Wisconsinites with HIV/AIDS.

But Keeton is confident that HIV/AIDS funding has bipartisan support in Madison.

“The fight against AIDS has really been something that members of both parties have embraced,” Keeton said. “We’ve worked hard all these years building consensus and not focusing on programs where there’s dissension.”

Tanya Atkinson, vice president of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, is more wary of the impact conservatives will have on her area of interest – sexual health and reproductive freedom.

“Signs indicate the new leadership will be pursuing a dangerous agenda,” Atkinson said. “Their goals are to outlaw abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, to restrict access to birth control, and to stop comprehensive sex education that also protects students from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender.

“If Scott Walker and new legislative leaders are serious about reducing government intrusion and enhancing fiscally responsible healthcare practices, they should support strengthening the health of Wisconsin with access to basic reproductive healthcare.”

On the Legislature’s opening day, lawmakers proposed a flurry of measures that, while not attacking LGBT rights or reproductive freedom, contained a strong conservative bent.

“At 8:01 a.m. this morning, the Republicans began their bait-and-switch away from job creation and onto right-wing social issues,” said openly gay state Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, in a statement released Jan. 3.

“Between 8:01 a.m. and 8:02 a.m. this morning, Rep. Joel Kleefisch circulated 15 co-sponsorship memos to all legislators asking us to become sponsors of right-wing legislation, highlighted by permitting guns on school property, eliminating same day voter registration and a bill that prohibits certain stem cell research equipment from a proposed tax exemption,” Pocan said. “Not one bill will create jobs. Less than one hour later, Rep. Dean Kaufert circulated further expanded gun legislation.”

“Wisconsinites deserve better from Republicans on their first day on the job, but this is just the start,” Pocan added. “It makes me wonder what other right-wing bills they are going to introduce.”

Since Jan. 3, many Democrats have echoed the charge that GOP lawmakers have wandered off their campaign message of job growth and budget cutting. An Associated Press analysis of eight bills submitted by Walker during his first week in office concluded they would increase the deficit by $80 million a year over the next two years.

Democrats, already incensed over Walker’s decision to give up $823 million in federal funds for a high-speed rail project, now say the governor’s decision to have Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen join a lawsuit against federal healthcare reform will prove costly both to the state and the nation.

“At a time of deep financial crisis, Scott Walker has sent J.B. Van Hollen on a costly political errand that, if it were successful, would have the effect of denying healthcare to tens of thousands of Wisconsinites and adding $1 trillion to the federal deficit over the next 20 years,” Tate said. “Van Hollen has already shown how political this is by consulting with Texas Republican operatives on the taxpayer dime. He must now be explicit about what costs there will be to Wisconsin taxpayers when their lawyers are doing Scott Walker’s partisan bidding, instead of fighting crime.”

In order to fulfill his campaign promise of creating 250,000 new jobs over the next four years, Walker is relying primarily on bills to make Wisconsin more attractive to corporations by giving them tax breaks, curbing union power and making it extremely difficult for consumers to sue manufacturers and other companies. This combination of proposals led Tate to charge that Walker was trying “to turn Wisconsin into Mississippi.”

More of Walker’s economic plan will be revealed when he submits his budget next month.

Democrats say they will tap more than 15,000 volunteers to counter any Republican proposals that are not targeted to improving the state’s economy and to hold Republican freshmen legislators accountable for their campaign promises to focus on the economy and the budget. In a similar spirit, the progressive group One Wisconsin Now has launched meetthemajority.com, a website that’s designed to be “a continuing clearinghouse of information about the 31 new conservative members of the Republican legislative majority.”