If you were forced to pay $100 more for your health care coverage, you’d expect to get better benefits, see a health care provider sooner or receive improved coverage. Right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case in Wisconsin where families are paying more and getting less. While other states are expanding access to coverage and holding down costs for taxpayers, Wisconsin is moving in the wrong direction.
A recent update from the legislature’s highly respected and non-partisan Fiscal Bureau revealed that Gov. Walker’s rejection of federal health care dollars has already cost Wisconsin taxpayers $206 million and will cost between $261 and $315 million more over the next three years. That’s roughly $100 from every man, woman and child in our state.
This hidden health care tax hasn't improved care or expanded access either. In fact, tens of thousands of individuals have already been removed from the state’s popular BadgerCare program. While Gov. Walker has described this plan as the “Wisconsin Way,” the reality is that dropping people off their health insurance and forcing taxpayers to pay more while getting less is the “Wrong Way.”
The impact on Wisconsin families has been well-documented. Estimates show that 3,367 eligible residents in Brown County have been denied coverage. 4,489 in Dane County, 1,566 in Eau Claire, 4,193 in La Crosse, 2,010 in Marathon, 21,959 in Milwaukee and 2,297 in Winnebago. All across Wisconsin, real people who are working hard to make ends meet are being denied health care coverage. Rather than blocking these workers from accessing affordable coverage, we should work together to improve care and lower costs for everyone.
Last year during the 2013-2015 state budget debate, Democrats offered an alternative, commonsense plan. This plan was supported by many of the state’s respected hospitals and health care providers, the Wisconsin Medical Society, the Wisconsin Nurses Association, the Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians, and thousands of health care advocates. Not only would this plan have provided coverage for 87,000 additional Wisconsin residents, it also would have saved state taxpayers hundreds of millions.
Fortunately, we still have an opportunity to support this sensible and cost-effective plan in the next state budget. Rather than be an outlier, Wisconsin can join the majority of states that have implemented similar health care reforms, lowered health care costs and improved coverage for their residents.
As Wisconsin’s economy continues to lag behind our neighbors and our budget deficit continues to grow, it’s critical that we move past the partisan bickering and support commonsense policies that save taxpayer dollars and provide real benefits to working families across the state.
We know that Wisconsin does better when we all do better. And we all do better when our children, our families, our neighbors and our co-workers have access to affordable health care. Instead of rejecting a sensible, cost-effective plan because of petty partisan politics, we should work together to strengthen BadgerCare, save taxpayers money and give families the freedom to live healthy and productive lives.
Jennifer Shilling represents the 32nd Senate District which covers La Crosse, Vernon, Crawford and parts of Monroe County. She serves as the ranking Senate Democrat on the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee.
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