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Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011

Issue of the Week: Bye-Bye BadgerCare

Plus Heroes of the Week

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During the gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Scott Walker made headlines for saying that he’d cut BadgerCare, the state’s Medicaid-financed health insurance program created by former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson that’s held up as a model for other states to follow. His comments generated a ton of backlash, since the program serves more than 750,000 people and is so popular that there’s a 70,000-person waiting list. BadgerCare is so useful that even some of Sen. Ron Johnson’s Pacur employees in Oshkosh have been on it.

So it’s no surprise that Walker wants to avoid public criticism by burying his changes to Medicaid programs—which include BadgerCare, SeniorCare and Family Care—in his budget repair bill. Then, going further, he wants to ensure that his appointed head of the state Department of Health Services (DHS), Dennis Smith, could make sweeping changes to Medicaid programs without approval by the full Legislature. Only the Republican-dominated Joint Finance Committee would have to approve changes, and the committee isn’t required to hold a public hearing on requests, even when there’s an objection.

No debate. No constituent input. No vote taken by your democratically elected legislator.

The provision is so bad that, The Capital Times reported, the state attorney who drafted it isn’t sure if it’s even constitutional, since the Legislature would be ceding its power to create laws to the executive branch (that would be Walker and Smith). “Some of the language in the request [from the Walker administration] would allow the DHS to change any Medical Assistance law, for any reason, at any time, and potentially without notice or public hearing,” the attorney wrote in a memo to the Department of Administration.

So what’s on the table? While the federal health care reform law bars states from dropping Medicaid coverage, Walker and Smith—a known opponent of Medicaid—could try to exempt Wisconsin from the federal requirements and then start eliminating BadgerCare recipients. Barring that, Walker and Smith could make it more difficult to enroll in BadgerCare and end optional Medicaid services such as physical therapy, dental care and prescription drugs.

But who really knows what’s up their sleeve?

The bottom line is that Walker and Smith are poised to gut BadgerCare. They just don’t want you to know about it or be able to do anything to stop them.

Heroes of the Week

Milwaukee Center for Independence

Since 1938, the Milwaukee Center for Independence (MCFI) has been helping individuals and families with special needs to realize their full potential for self-sufficiency by offering programs for children, adults and seniors.

Southeastern Wisconsin has one of the highest percentages of children with special-care health needs in the nation. MCFI offers an array of services to help disabled children, including a “Birth to Three” program to assist families with children diagnosed with developmental delays, an accredited, Medicaid-certified Pediatric Special Care day nursing center, and a School for Early Development & Achievement.

Crucial to the success of these vital services are the efforts of hundreds of volunteers, who help out as tutors, mentors and baby-rockers, as well as by doing clerical work or assisting with special events.

Readers who wish to help are encouraged to call MCFI at 414-937-2188 or fill out a volunteer application at www.mcfi.net.

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