Larson Report 
NEWSLETTER

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 A Capitol Update from State Senator Chris Larson

Dear Wisconsin Neighbor,

Spring is finally here, the Brewers are off to a great start, and the running trails are getting busy again! My office and I are continuing a deep dive into Governor Evers' proposed budget. Budget briefings started today and soon the Joint Finance Committee will be in Oak Creek for a listening session.

For this newsletter, I wanted to take a closer look at where Wisconsin is on health care and what the path ahead is. Since the passing of comprehensive health care reform in 2009, Wisconsin has lagged behind most the country in expanding access. With a new Governor comes a new way forward. Evers builds the 2019-2021 budget on the $320 million saved by expanding Medicaid coverage in Wisconsin. 

If you are interested in the full breakdown of Governor Evers' healthcare budget, an analysis by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) which contains all the numbers discussed below can be found here

As a reminder, If you have thoughts on this budget, please reach out to let me know. We'll soon be announcing our listening sessions so I can hear directly from you, too.

Go Brewers! And good luck everyone racing this weekend!

In Service, 

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It is Time to Accept Medicaid Expansion in Wisconsin
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Nationally, America is paying more and getting less when it comes to how we spend our health care dollars. In fact, among high-income nations, the U.S. ranked lastAccording to the Commonwealth Report, the U.S. rated very poor in equality of coverage. 44 percent of low-income Americans have trouble gaining access to coverage compared with 26 percent of high-income Americans. When we should be focusing on moving towards a national system that covers all Americans, Republicans are choosing to focus their energy on trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

If Republicans are successful in their lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act, we risk going back to the days of denying pre-existing condition coverage and trash health plans that covered next to nothing. We should be expanding coverage and we have the opportunity to do that here in Wisconsin by accepting the Medicaid expansion allowed under the Affordable Care Act.  

Wisconsin has had the opportunity to expand our state's Medicaid program using federal money allowed under the Affordable Care Act since 2014. It has only been petty partisan politics that has kept us moving backward on healthcare, covering fewer people, and spending more money for it. It is time to move past the denial politics and accept the federal Medicaid expansion. Our neighbors deserve the best services for their tax dollars. Our neighboring Midwestern states have figured out that getting our tax dollars back from Washington to help provide basic healthcare is essential to moving forward, it's time we join them.    
To date, 37 states (including D.C) have taken the Medicaid expansion offered under the Affordable Healthcare Act. Every single neighboring state of Wisconsin has accepted the expansion and more Americans have healthcare security because of it. Governor Evers' budget would accept the federal Medicaid expansion. This move alone would cover an estimated 82,000 more people under Medicaid (30,000 of whom currently have no insurance or health security) and free up $320,000 million of our state tax dollars to cover other important priorities (found on the page labeled 165 of LFB breakdown).
Studies have shown that expansion states have experienced a significant increase in coverage rates and reductions in uninsured rates among low-income and vulnerable populations. Medicaid expansion also positively affects access to healthcare, use of services, the affordability of care, and financial security among the low-income population. No one should have to face the possibility of bankruptcy because of a hospital stay and Wisconsin can be doing more to ensure we are taking care of as many of our neighbors as possible.

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Addressing the Lead Crisis
Here in Milwaukee, we know the dangers of lead service lines and the devastating impact that lead exposure can have on developing children. In his budget proposal, Governor Evers recognizes the risk of lead poisoning to pregnant women and young children and makes a significant investment to help mitigate that risk.   
 
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Governor Evers made the promise in his State of the State address that 2019 would be the year of clean water because he knows the health risks associated with contaminated water sources. 

The healthcare portion of his budget makes the prevention and treatment of lead contamination a priority. Reliable access to clean, safe drinking water is a Wisconsin value and must be a bipartisan priority. Last legislative session I worked with Democratic and Republican legislators to introduce a number of proposals to speed up how we deal with this health crisis. Even under the previous administration, we made some progress, such as passing Senate Bill 48, a proposal to help fund lead remediation. While helpful, this law isn't up to the urgent need we face. Given the danger that lead contamination and poisoning poses, more action is urgently needed. With Governor Evers committed to addressing this crisis, I am hopeful that we will finally make significant progress.  

Reinvesting in Women's Health

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Governor Evers is recommitting Wisconsin to comprehensive healthcare for women and children. The $28 million Governor Evers wants to invest in the "Healthy Women, Healthy Babies" budget plan would:

  • Extend the eligibility for postpartum Medicaid from 60 days to 1 year ($23 million in fiscal year 2021). This will provide healthier outcomes for mothers and their newborns
  • Create a pilot program to provide Medicaid Reimbursement for doula services in Milwaukee, Rock, Dane, Brown, and Sheboygan counties. This will provide additional options for having health  professionals involved in making sure that births are safe   
  • Grants $192,000 in fiscal year 2020 for community-based doulas

Governor Evers is once again making Planned Parenthood eligible to receive Woman’s Health Block Grant funds and federal Title V funds. This provides an additional $387,000 in funding for Planned Parenthood and others over the biennium. For many of our neighbors, Planned Parenthood is their primary healthcare provider and these healthcare facilities provide women with lifesaving screening and preventative services.

Defunding these facilities served only false partisan dogma and caused a reduction of services and quality healthcare for our friends and families. I am glad to once again have a Governor who recognizes the excellent life-saving work that Planned Parenthood does as a healthcare provider to all including the young, less affluent, and our underserved communities. 

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Providing care and dignity for our older neighbors is vitally important to a healthy Wisconsin. For too many of our friends the high cost of healthcare, soaring prescription medicine prices, and the financial drain of long-term care are economically impossible. Governor Evers' budget recognizes those challenges and puts Wisconsin on a more compassionate path for our seniors.

We know that paying for life-saving prescription medicine is one of the biggest challenges that our seniors face. This budget would help lower the prices of prescription drugs for some of our most vulnerable citizens as well as take a broader aim at reducing the cost of prescriptions for everyone. 

First, The Governor's budget fully funds SeniorCare. SeniorCare is the popular prescription drug program that helps seniors afford the medications that their quality of life and health depend on. SeniorCare is a state-run assistance program for Wisconsin residents age 65 or older. There are four levels to this program with varying benefits and eligibility requirements for each level and to participate seniors must pay a small annual fee. SeniorCare provides assistance with prescription drug costs by offering medications for very low co-payment amounts for seniors. Unlike most state pharmaceutical assistance programs, there is no requirement that program participants be enrolled in a Medicare Part D plan.

While this program has survived numerous Republican attempts to terminate it, funding has been limited, restricting the effectiveness and cost-saving potential of this program. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, SeniorCare currently helps 93,371 of our neighbors afford their prescriptions. For eligibility requirements, information, and how to apply for the SeniorCare prescription drug program Click Here.     

For those who may not meet the requirements for SeniorCare, the Governor's budget also creates a prescription medication importation program. While this program is not necessarily targeted at seniors, it would still benefit seniors who are on prescription drugs. This program allows Wisconsin to import generic, off-brand drugs from abroad. For a drug to qualify for this program, it must be cheaper than the domestic option, have no more than three domestic competitors, and meet all federal safety requirements.

This could significantly help reduce the cost of medications by making the big Pharmaceutical corporations adjust their price scheme, to stop overcharging our neighbors. According to a recent report by Scientific American, "U.S. prices were consistently higher than in other European markets. Elsewhere, U.S. prices were six times higher than in Brazil and 16 times higher than the average in the lowest-price country, which was usually India." 

Those in need of life-saving medicine should not have to pay more because of the urgency of their need or where they live. This price gouging needs to end and I am hopeful that we can make significant progress with Governor Evers' budget.

This budget would also lower the cost of prescription drugs by providing $6,045,000 annually to eliminate copayments for prescription drugs for enrollees in Medicaid.

Also included in the Governor's budget:

  • Expand the dementia care specialist program to all aging and disability resource centers by funding an additional 27 dementia care specialists and three tribal dementia care specialists.
  • Fund dementia training for health care providers ($61,600 in 2019-20 and $78,200 in 2020-21) 
  • Provide $16 million over two years to support direct care staff who provide medical services through personal care programs
  • Create 12 new full-time project staff at the Bureau of Assisted Living to help aid with the growing number of assisted living facilities in Wisconsin 

From mental health and substance abuse to tobacco prevention and increasing dental coverage in Wisconsin, there is a lot to love about the health priorities outlined in Governor Evers' first biennial budget. So again, if you'd like to read through the complete Department of Health Services budget summary provided by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, that can be found HERE.  

In a later Larson Report, we will be taking a deeper dive specifically into the medical marijuana portion of the health budget. For now, it's important to note that Governor Evers budget does create a system by which medical marijuana would be available to those who qualify and are given a prescription and a registry card. While it would be my preference to legalize marijuana outright for both medical and recreational uses, the provisions in Governor Evers budget are a good first step.   

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Governor Evers wrote a bold state budget that envisions a renewal for Wisconsin and reflects the work and will of the people. 

Legislative Republicans owe it to their constituents to negotiate in good faith with Governor Evers and work within the framework of that budget.

Even before the full budget was released, Republicans were openly talking about scrapping it and writing their own budget, ignoring what the people voted for, and turning their backs on their Wisconsin friends and neighbors. This should not be. The people voted for a new direction for Wisconsin, not more partisan games and one-upmanship.

Call the legislative hotline at 1-800-362-9472 and ask for your state representatives, tell them you want them to work within the framework of Governor Evers' budget. 

Also, make a plan to attend one of the public budget hearings that the Legislative Joint Finance Committee will be holding around the state and have your voice heard.

Public Hearing Dates

  1. Friday, April 5th (10:00 Am - 5:00 Pm) Pontiac Convention Center, 2809 North Pontiac Drive Janesville, WI 53545
  2. Monday, April 15th (10:00 Am - 5:00 Pm) Oak Creek Community Center, 8580 South Howell Avenue Oak Creek, WI 53154
  3. Monday, April 15th (10:00 Am - 5:00 Pm) UW River Falls - Riverview Ballroom, 500 Wild Rose Avenue River Falls, WI 54022
  4. Wednesday, April 24th (10:00 Am - 5:00 Pm) UW Green Bay - University Union - Phoenix Room, 2430 Campus Court Green Bay, WI 54311 
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The Larson Report strives to provide up-to-date, in-depth information to you. Between editions, a lot happens in Madison and around the country. I want to make sure you know the most pressing issues facing our neighbors and friends across the nation. Below are some of the top stories from the past couple of weeks. 

Trump Administration tries to Defund the Special Olympics

While we have seen the ultra-rich 1% grab huge tax breaks under this administration everyone else seems to get the short end of the stick. Under the original proposed U.S. Department of Education budget, non-public charter schools would be seeing a bump of $60 million while $8.5 billion is being cut from a host of programs run by the U.S. Department of Education, including the Special Olympics.

Cutting this funding would have denied hope and opportunity to the 272,000 kids and their families who participate in Special Olympics. They say budgets are moral documents and Betsy DeVos and President Trump showed us what and whom they value.

It was only through immense pressure from the public that President Trump and DeVos finally felt shamed enough to begrudgingly retreat and not cut funding for the Special Olympics. 

 Great Lakes Warming Faster Than Rest of the Nation

The evidence, facts, and overwhelming science tell us the same things, global climate change is real, it’s happening now, and we must do more to preserve our shared environment for our safety, health, and quality of life.

According to recent studies, the great lakes region is warming at a quicker rate than the rest of the nation and it’s putting our area at increased risk of devastating flooding, dangerously higher temperatures, deteriorating water quality, and erratically fluctuating lake levels in the coming decades. We can no longer afford to let the coal industry blind us, nor can we ignore that action is needed to address the effects of climate change. We owe it to future generations of Wisconsinites to begin working on this immediately. We only have one environment and we can no longer pretend that our actions have no effect on it. We must invest in a green economy and renewable energy as if our future depends on it because it does.

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