Expanding Healthcare: The right thing to do

By Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber

Between the time I write this column and the time you read it, one of the most important milestones in the long saga of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will have passed. On January 1, insurance plans purchased from the health care exchanges will begin their coverage. For many Americans who have been locked out of health insurance for so long because of exploding costs or preexisting conditions, this will be the first time they’ve had health insurance coverage. For others, it will be the first time they’ve had insurance they could actually count on to cover them when they get sick. While anyone who’s followed the news over the last few months—or indeed, the last few years—could tell you that the ACA’s path has not been smooth, I think many of the pitfalls along the way were avoidable.

Last month, in response to news reports of problems with the federal health care enrollment website, Gov. Walker called a special session of the Legislature to extend the timeline he set in his recent budget for kicking Wisconsinites off BadgerCare. While it is laudable that the governor sees the need to expand access to affordable health care, if only temporarily, the fact is that people will still be losing their health insurance. Governor Walker and the Republicans in the Legislature had the option to make sure nobody would lose their BadgerCare coverage, at no additional cost to taxpayers for at least the next three years, but he chose to play politics with their health instead.

During the budget debate earlier this year, residents across the state asked Governor Walker to accept federal dollars to strengthen BadgerCare and implement a state-run exchange. This funding—from a pot of money that Wisconsin families already paid into with their federal tax dollars—was a win-win for Wisconsin’s working families and taxpayers and would have insured 100,000 more Wisconsinites. Strengthening BadgerCare was also poised to save Wisconsin taxpayers $120 million, funding that undoubtedly would have been welcome in efforts to provide worker training or small business grants to create jobs. In fact, states like Kentucky, Washington, and Minnesota that took this deal in the first place were able to build their own health care exchange websites and avoid the problems in the federal website that prompted Gov. Walker to propose changing the BadgerCare deadline.

Now, the governor has proposed to spend even more Wisconsin tax dollars to cover the cost of his health care plan. Under the governor’s plan, almost 80,000 Wisconsinites will be kicked off BadgerCare on March 31, 2014, rather than December 31, 2014. Governor Walker is refusing to right his wrong of rejecting funds to strengthen BadgerCare. He is spending Wisconsin’s taxpayer dollars to fill in part of the gap rather than laying a new foundation of expanded affordable health care with federal funding.

Wisconsin can do better. The Affordable Care Act was designed to give states flexibility to make our own decisions, and states as diverse as Arkansas, Iowa, and Vermont have taken advantage of that flexibility to offer innovative solutions. At a time when Wisconsin is lagging behind other states in job creation, economic development, and wage growth, we can’t afford to fall behind in health care too.

I encourage you to contact the governor and your state representative and senator to let them know how important access to affordable healthcare is to all Wisconsinites. The governor can accept the federal tax dollars we have already paid to make sure that BadgerCare covers all of the people who need it. You can call the legislative hotline and leave a message: the number is 800-362-9472.

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