State seeks $225M in Medicaid cuts
By Tim Damos and David Wahlberg, Capital Newspapers | Posted: Thursday, November 10, 2011 8:03 pm
Sauk County children and poor families on medical assistance programs may become ineligible or no longer be able to afford coverage as the result of about $225 million in Medicaid cuts approved Thursday by a state budget committee.
The cuts are expected to cause about 65,000 participants statewide to leave the health insurance programs. It's not clear how many of Sauk County's 4,000-plus Medicaid participants would be affected.
"It's not a good thing," said Sauk County Human Services Director Bill Orth. "It will result in cost shifting, because taxpayers will end up picking up these costs in some fashion, through things like emergency room visits or charity care."
Democrats on the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee voted against the proposal from Republican Gov. Scott Walker's administration, which along with other measures would come to about $554 million in cuts. Opponents, including advocates for the poor and uninsured, railed against the Medicaid cuts, calling them unjust and inhumane.
One provision would eliminate counties' ability to retroactively bill Medicaid for people committed to mental institutions and don't enroll in the medical assistance program until sometime after they were committed. Orth said county human services agencies likely will require more from local property taxpayers to make up the difference.
Republicans on the committee who backed the measure, along with leaders from Walker's Department of Health Services, said the cuts were necessary to deal with rising costs and expanding enrollment in the Medicaid programs. Those programs, which currently cover about 1.1 million people - or 20 percent of Wisconsin residents - have grown by nearly 10 times the rate of the state's population during the past two decades, driven both by need and expanded program offerings.
Failing to follow the Walker administration's proposals could result in even more people losing coverage or having their eligibility cut, backers of the plan said.
"I think all of us wish we could do more, but the money just isn't there," said committee co-chair Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia.
More than 64,000 people would leave Wisconsin's Medicaid coverage under the plan, according to a fiscal bureau analysis.
Nearly 28,000 would have access to employer coverage, and 22,000 would leave because they would have to start paying premiums, the analysts stated.
The programs cover about 1.2 million people, or one in five state residents.
Dennis Smith, health services secretary, told the budget committee Thursday morning that the cuts are needed to slow the growth of Medicaid and keep it viable.
Smith said the state's proposals to decrease benefits for more than 200,000 people, make others pay more for care and implement other trims, is better than dropping 53,000 people from Medicaid completely. That would be necessary if the committee and the federal government don't approve the plans, he said.
Democrats on the committee said the fiscal bureau's analysis is proof the changes will harm many.
Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, said the cuts would not reduce health care costs, but shift them to counties and charity organizations, resulting in more expensive care with worse outcomes.
"Wisconsin's ground-breaking investment in Badger Care has made our state a national leader in health care, but the eligibility and premiums approved by the Joint Finance Committee today is an astonishing retreat from our commitment," Clark said. "This action sends us 180 degrees backwards in yet one more critical area where Wisconsin has until now been a national leader."
-- The Associated Press contributed to this report