Saturday, June 21, 2014

Yes, Progressives Are Proud Running On Health Care Reform-- Meet Martha Laning Of Sheboygan


A few days ago we took a look at the first of our progressive candidates for the Wisconsin state Senate, Assemblywoman Penny Bernard Schaber from Appleton. Blue America is working to help Wisconsin Democrats flip the state Senate and deprive Scott Walker-- yes, that Scott Walker-- of his near dictatorial control over the state. They only need to win three races to do it. Our second candidate, Martha Laning has never run for office before. But her stunning record of achievement in the realm of civic engagement would be the envy of most politicians.

Martha and her husband and their three children live in Sheboygan. The 9th Senate District extends south from up Calumet and Manitowoc counties, through Sheboygan to the Ozaukee county line. She's been a can do kind of community activist, working with her neighbors to make sure local schools had the facilities they needed to give their children a decent education. She took a job with the Plymouth Intergenerational Coalition to help get their new project off the ground. When the economy collapsed many believed the project would fall apart-- but Martha persevered. She brought together business and community leaders to raise over $4.6 Million for the project, which was completed in May 2011. The building now serves as a community center bringing seniors and children together, and their collaborative efforts have been labeled a model for the State of Wisconsin. She explained that she's running for the Senate because she’s seen firsthand how much we can accomplish when people work together to take on a challenge. She knows that after years of partisanship and gridlock, "it’s time for new leaders who are willing to work with both sides of the aisle to get things done for Wisconsin families.   As Senator she’ll bring Republicans and Democrats together to reinvest in our classrooms and job training programs, give local businesses the support they need to grow, return local control to the local representatives elected to serve their community, safeguard health and safety services that local families rely on, and balance the state’s budget the right way-- by working with both parties to find the best solutions."

I asked her to introduce herself with a guest post about a topic that is central to her campaign, Scott Brown's refusal to expand Medicare/Badger Care to many of the state's most needy families. If you like what you read, please consider contributing to her grassroots campaign here.
Wisconsin And The Affordable Care Act
-by Martha Laning

The question of "Was it wise for the State to refuse the federal Medicare Expansion funds here in Wisconsin?" is easy to answer because unlike most issues I can not find one good reason to have not accepted those dollars.

So let's start with the facts. The state of Wisconsin has traditionally been one of the most progressive health care states in the nation. Republican Governor Tommy Tompson and Democratic Governor Jim Doyle were both supportive of ensuring health care was provided to "at risk" Wisconsinites.

Before the Affordable Care Act, Wisconsin offered Badger Care to all children and parents with custodial rights whose families were at or below 200% of poverty level. For pregnant woman, the level of coverage was 300%. Some childless adults were covered as well-- there was a cap on coverage once 60,000 people were enrolled. Once Governor Walker took office, he reduced the coverage cap for childless adults to 20,000 enrollees. Badger Care was funded by the federal government at 60% and the remaining 40% was paid by the state.

With the passing of the Affordable Care Act:

The state was asked by the federal government to cover all people who lived at or below 133% of the poverty level (children, pregnant woman and adults with or without children). Yes, you read that right-- the federal govenment was reducing the number of people that Wisconsin would be expected to cover under Badger Care from 200% or 300% (depending on whether it was a child, pregnant woman etc.) to just 133% of the poverty level.

In exchange the state was offered not only the 60% of cost reimbursement for offering Badger Care to people at or below the federal poverty level, but 100% of the cost of insuring people from 101% to 133% of the poverty level.

The federal government also offered coverage for people living at 133% to 400% of the poverty level, federal subsidies, on a sliding scale, to make their health care affordable. Traditionally, Wisconsin had covered some of these people and if we accepted the Federal Government's offer our Badger Care expenses would decline. For people making between 133% and 200%/300% (200% for a child or parent with children or 300% for pregnant woman) the people would take on a larger portion of their health care expenses because Wisconsin had traditionally paid more under Governor Thompson and Governor Doyle.

The bottom line is that whether the legislators like or dislike the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is irrelevant because the decisiion to pass the ACA is a federal decision. The state legislators role, on the other hand, is to be sure that Wisconsin residents get the full benefits of the federal laws passed. So to me this was a no brainer decision-- the ACA had passed and I as a legislator would have wanted Wisconsin to get our share of the benefits. Instead our Legislature and Governor made a political statement about not liking the Affordable Care Act and rejected the required changes thereby refusing $149 million in federal reimbursement for just the current 2 year budget. If that decision holds, Wisconsin will continue to lose out.

The loss to our state goes further than just a federal funding loss. At risk Wisconsinites lost valuable affordable coverage and our economy was robbed of dollars that would have been spent in the state. I believe we will soon be learning that the cost of health care in Wisconsin is higher here than in other states in part by the fact that doctors and hospitals are being left with unpaid deductibles that our at risk citizens can't afford.

I see three losses for Wisconsin:

70,000 of Wisconsin residents were denied full coverage health care that Wisconsin federal tax dollars would have paid for-- those tax dollars, sent in by hard working Wisconsinites were not used to help Wisconsinites OR reimbursed to us, but were sent to other states. That isn't fair or right!

Low income families and individuals, who were no longer covered, were expected to go on the exchange to get health care. They were expected to pay for their health care using money they could have spent in Wisconsin's economy. So the Governor's and Legislature's decision reduced the dollars spent in stores and shops in Wisconsin which hurts our economy.

Finally the affordable coverage offered to the low income families, even with federal subsidies, have high deductibles, which will become a drain on our doctors and hospitals when families with little to no discretionary income are unable to pay the deductibles. When you're struggling to pay for food and housing you don't have money for a $1,000 deductible so these low income families leave the burden on our doctors and hospitals. That drives up health care costs and may be one of the reasons Minnesota has lower insurance premiums-- because doctors and hospitals know that bills charged in Minnesota are more likely to be paid. (Minnesota covers under the state's health care program people up to 200% of the federal poverty level.)

I can not think of a single reason why we would reject Wisconsite's hard earned federal tax dollars from coming here. I understand that Govenor Walker did not like the ACA but that was a federal question; the state's question was whether or not to accept federal dollars to cover Wisconsinites... he got it wrong. This decision should not have been a political statement, it should have been a decision to provide the best services to the people of Wisconsin.
Again, if you want to help turn Wisconsin's Senate blue, this page is dedicated to doing just that.

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