In part I, education cuts from pre-K through college funding and services were examined, and the effects of those cuts on middle class and low-income families. Today, Medicaid and BadgerCare Plus. If you need any more evidence of the agenda being forwarded by Scott Walker via corporate influence and money – look no further than health care, as the link between poverty and population health is critical to understanding the true cost of these cuts.
Medicaid – The governor’s budget summary points to $500 million in cuts over the biennial. Most of the specific cuts have not been disclosed yet, but once the budget goes into effect the cuts are made and authorized by administration-appointed panels. This is a significant change in Wisconsin policy. Previously, Medicaid had legislative oversight with broad public input, covering a diverse range of opinion. This puts the program squarely in the Governor’s office, with little or no public input, and worse, no legislative oversight.
BadgerCare Plus – Again, the specific cuts are not outlined and have yet to be determined. In reality, regardless of the amount that will initially be eliminated; the bill gives sweeping authority to a governor appointed DHS Secretary to issue any “emergency” rules that supersede any existing legislation. The bill will reduce income eligibility levels to participate, reduce covered services, and increase premiums and co-pays. One of the least reported portions of the budget requires participants to be dropped from BadgerCare if ANY alternate insurance is available, regardless of the cost to the insured. To a low-income family, or a family who is just starting a new job after months of unemployment, the ability to stay on BadgerCare is critical to remaining in the health care system while getting back on your feet. The high cost of some plans could make it impossible to make ends meet. And let’s be clear – with the sweeping powers of a cabinet-level DHS position determining eligibility requirements with no oversight, eligibility will certainly become more stringent.
Family Care – $111 million in cuts over two years. This would create a freeze in the number of counties participating, and the number of participants in each county. The result – a waiting list for home and community-based health care for elderly and people with disabilities, as well as limited access to care.
Senior Care – $15 million in cuts over 2 years. The plan, as broadly reported, would require participants to enroll in Medicare part D as their primary prescription coverage. This would greatly increase costs to seniors, and coupled with the Family Care cuts above would not only increase cost, but limit access to affordable care to seniors.
Contraception - unknown cuts in the budget summary. Virtually eliminate all family planning services and STI testing for eligible males age 15-44. Also eliminates family planning and physician-approved contraception coverage for eligible women. By all reasonable estimates, this will increase unintended pregnancy and STI transmission.
The obvious effects of these cuts are drastically reducing health access and services to at-risk, low-income groups – especially children and senior citizens. One needs not think too hard over the short-term consequences of these cuts. Obviously the wealthy, upper class and higher earning middle class will feel no effect – in the short-term. They will continue their normal health care, have ready access when they need it; while the low-income, at-risk populations steadily slip through the cracks of the system. The long-term consequences of this are well documented. There is a direct correlation between the income gap and health in a large population. Lower income populations are more at risk for chronic diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, Heart Disease, Cancer, among others. There is also greater research and evidence (The Whitehall Studies http://www.ucl.ac.uk/whitehallII/ ) pointing to a person’s socio-economic status and their overall health. Moreover, epidemiologists have been investigating the link between the fact that nations with larger income gaps have less healthy populations that those with lesser gaps http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1733121/ as reported in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, based on a study of 21 developed countries.
The healthcare policies of Scott Walker’s budget will take a large number of currently at-risk people, and restrict access, increase costs, and reduce services to them at a time when they are desperately needed. The policies could very likely create another at-risk group who are currently just getting by with current services and assistance and put them further at risk. Bottom line – the end result of this ENTIRE budget, through all the cuts to services and programs outlined over the last 2 days negatively impact one group. The working people of Wisconsin. Whether a teacher making $50,000/year, or a single mom making $20,000/year, we are being asked to sacrifice basic rights and services that have made Wisconsin a role model of progressivism and bi-partisan co-operation. The benefactors are in one group – the currently wealthy who contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Scott Walker’s campaign. I challenge the Walker administration to dispute this using fact – not rhetoric and ideology. By far, the greater damage being done in this budget is continuing to widen the income gap, especially in Wisconsin. David Obey was recently on Wisconsin Radio News, and stated the facts as supplied by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Since Rep. Obey took office in 1968 to today, the top 5% of wage earners in Wisconsin (those earning more than $210K) have had a tax CUT of over 20%. Those in the lower brackets have faced an INCREASE of 70%. There are fewer people controlling more of the wealth than ever before, and this budget will widen that gap. Worse yet, it is to the detriment of our health and well-being this is happening. Read the report, share the facts, and understand that in David Obey’s words – if we bring back the upper tier tax rate to a portion of what it was in 1968, we can pay for all these services and still have a surplus. Or does sacrifice only apply to those who can’t buy their way out of making a sacrifice? Anyone paying attention over the past two months already knows the answer – unfortunately, so does Scott Walker.