Most of the major hospitals and medical associations in the state are calling on the Legislature to reverse the governor’s decision. There are resolutions advancing in 15 Wisconsin counties asking the Walker administration to either take the money or to cooperate in passing it through to the counties. Over 150 organizations representing a cross section of constituencies have come out in opposition to Walker’s plan.
Based on in-district meetings between individual senators and networks of health reform activists across Wisconsin, we believe that Walker’s plan would lose an up-or-down vote in the State Senate if it were held today.
None of this considerable opposition guarantees that Walker’s plan will be defeated, but it does mean that Walker will have to spend political capital to force it through the Legislature. It would be much better if he changed his mind.
By the numbers, Walker’s plan to reject billions of federal health care dollars is one of the worst policy decisions in recent memory. According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the Legislature’s nonpartisan budget referee, rejecting the enhanced federal BadgerCare money will actually cost the state $100 million more in the next two year budget to cover 88,000 fewer Wisconsinites.
Not only will it cost the state more money for less health coverage, it will also be very costly to business. According to a study by Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, Walker’s plan would lead to a $36 million increase in federal business taxes for Wisconsin employers because of assessments they will pay for employees on the new competitive health insurance marketplaces, also known as health exchanges. These assessments do not apply if the employees are on BadgerCare.
Worse still, Walker’s plan risks the health security of many Wisconsin workers and their families. Walker forces 88,000 adults currently enrolled in BadgerCare onto the new competitive health insurance marketplaces which will be launched next year as part of the national health care reform law.
The problem is that the premiums, co-pays and deductibles associated with the private insurance plans available in these marketplaces are too expensive for many of the low-wage workers currently on BadgerCare. This would be disastrous for tens of thousands of Wisconsin families. It also will damage the finances of many hospitals, especially hard pressed rural hospitals, who will see large increases in uncompensated care, some of which will be shifted to private insurance, raising premiums for everyone.
The most fundamental issue is access to affordable health coverage. People who lack access to stable and affordable health coverage do not have a fair shot at the American dream. They face a constant threat of having their lives and careers devastated by health disasters that also become financial disasters. In the 21st century you do not have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness if you cannot control your own health care decisions or have the peace of mind of knowing that health care will be there when you need it.
The critical role of government is to step in and fill the gaps when the private market fails to provide equal economic and social opportunity. Filling the holes in BadgerCare is essential because the health insurance market has failed to provide low-income Wisconsinites with affordable health insurance options, and low-wage jobs are far less likely to include affordable coverage.
This public policy disaster is completely avoidable if Walker backs down from his indefensible decision. If he digs in and refuses to act in the public interest, the Legislature should overturn his policy and accept the billions of federal dollars on the table to fill the holes in BadgerCare.
Robert Kraig is executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, a nonprofit coalition of individuals and organizations committed to achieving social, economic and environmental justice. The organization is based in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point Neighborhood.