Wisconsin physicians urge legislature to expand BadgerCare

Updated: May. 24, 2021 at 6:21 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Wisconsin’s legislature will convene for a special session Tuesday afternoon to discuss Governor Tony Evers call to expand BadgerCare.

This is not the first time this topic has been put before lawmakers, but there’s an added, federal incentive of an additional $1 billion in funding if the state chooses to expand BadgerCare now.

Evers has already said that additional money would be used for projects throughout the state, like infrastructure and building projects.

The session is expected to begin Tuesday at 12:00 p.m., but Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke and Senate President Chris Kapenga suggest it won’t be a long discussion, saying “If the Governor were serious about the proposals he packed into this bill, he could fund each one of them today with the mountain of federal funds at his direct disposal. This is a thinly-veiled political maneuver by the Governor. We intend to gavel out this unserious stunt.”

Other Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, said “Our unique-to-Wisconsin solution is working, and we will not shift tens of thousands of people off their private insurance to a government-run system.”

They go on to say, ’'Everyone who wants insurance in our state has access and options.”

However, physicians from around the state beg to differ. Dr. Ann Helms, a neurologist in Brookfield, treats patients with strokes.

“So I see patients when they have no choice but to go to the hospital. The number of patients I have saying, ‘You have to discharge me, I can’t afford this. I’m going to go bankrupt,” said Dr. Helms. “They end up with catastrophic medical bills and are never able to work again. So they end up on permanent disability. Whereas, if we had been able to cover $5 of antihypertensive and a visit to the doctor twice a year, they’d be able to still be working.”

Right now, BadgerCare is only available to people who earn up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level. According to Healthcare.gov, the federal poverty level for an individual is $12,880.

“That is not very much money,” said Dr. Madelaine Tully, family physician in Milwaukee County.

Dr. Tully said her patients have to constantly weigh work hours with healthcare eligibility.

“Families don’t want to exist at that level, but when they earn just a few dollars more, the potentially thousands of dollars worth of medications or health care coverage goes away in the current system. So they have families that are making choices to stay at a very, very low income, because they’re smart. That extra few dollars that you may get working, you know, a few more hours may impact your health care coverage in the current system in such a way that you lose thousands of dollars worth of insulin,” said Dr. Tully.

These are the kinds of economic decisions Dr. Tully said could be mitigated through an expansion, as it would include people who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, instead of the current 100 percent.

“They want to do better and they want to make better, but the current system has has these caveats that are making it very hard for people,” said Dr. Tully.

If expanded, about 91,000 more Wisconsinites would be eligible for BadgerCare, which is something Dr. Brian Ewert, a nephrologist in Marshfield, said could help spur the economy.

“Study after study has proven that people who have good affordable health insurance are healthier, more likely to be employed, able to contribute to their communities and improve the economic status of states,” said Dr. Ewert.

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