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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Veterans Are Collateral Damage In Walker’s War on Medicaid

Low-income vets won’t be eligible for BadgerCare

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An estimated 1,200 low-income and uninsured military veterans won’t be eligible for BadgerCare coverage, thanks to Gov. Scott Walker’s refusal to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA).

These veterans—along with 500 military spouses—are currently eligible for BadgerCare and would continue to be in the future if Walker had not refused to expand Medicaid programs in Wisconsin with $3.9 billion in federal funding.

Instead, Walker is downsizing the BadgerCare program and shifting 80,000 low-income working parents onto health insurance exchanges, where private insurance plans can be purchased with tax-paid subsidies.

Because the state has rejected the federal funds, Wisconsin taxpayers will have to pay an additional $100 million in the next two years to provide insurance for fewer people—including veterans.

Mark Flower, director of community programs at the nonpartisan veterans organization DryHootch of America, said he’s heard stories from veterans who are unable to afford private health insurance but earn just a little bit too much to qualify for Walker’s BadgerCare program.

“We can do more for them,” Flower said.

 

Obama’s Plan Would Cover Low-Income Veterans

Although researchers from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute found that 1,700 military veterans and spouses would not qualify for BadgerCare under Walker’s plan, Flower said he felt that number was too low, since it didn’t appear to include members of the National Guard or Reservists, as well as children of veterans.

“The impact on families is underreported, kind of ignored,” Flower said.

Currently, BadgerCare—Wisconsin’s main Medicaid program—is available to individuals earning up to 200% of the federal poverty level.

If Wisconsin participates in President Obama’s federal health care reform, Wisconsin would receive additional federal funding for those earning between 100% and 133% of the federal poverty line. The federal government would pay 100% of the costs for those individuals for three years, and then 90% of the cost after that, far higher than the usual split between the federal and state governments’ Medicaid cost-sharing formula (where the federal government pays approximately 60%). This opportunity could have expanded BadgerCare access to Wisconsinites who are eligible but are on a waiting list as well as those who have not signed up for the program.

But Walker is rejecting the federal funds and limiting the number of low-income Wisconsinites with access to BadgerCare. Those who earn just above the federal poverty level through 200% of the poverty level would be shifted onto the health insurance exchanges so that they could purchase private insurance with taxpayer subsidies.

For example, a single parent of one child earning between $15,510 and $31,000 would lose their BadgerCare eligibility and could purchase health care on the exchange, as would the head of a four-person household earning between $23,550 and $47,100 annually.

The researchers found that 1,200 uninsured military veterans and 500 military spouses earn between 100% and 138% of the federal poverty level and would have been eligible for BadgerCare under the original federal plan.

The researchers did not calculate how many Wisconsin veterans and spouses earn between 139% and 200% of the federal poverty line and would lose their BadgerCare eligibility under Walker’s plan. So the estimated 1,700 vets and spouses who would no longer be eligible for BadgerCare is a conservative estimate, said Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin.

Kraig said that the exchanges weren’t designed for people earning very low incomes, even though Walker favors that shift to reduce what the governor calls dependence on entitlement programs.

“Under Walker’s vision of government dependency, these people are unworthy,” Kraig said. “It’s interesting to know that a number of the people impacted are going to be veterans. This is a really good example of what the real consequences are of messing around with health policy, particularly when you’re going to cost us more money, $100 million more in this biennium, to cover fewer people and play political games.”

 

Democrats Question Walker Appointee

In her testimony before the budget-vetting Joint Finance Committee (JFC), Kitty Rhoades—Walker’s appointee for health secretary—supported the governor’s BadgerCare downsizing.

But she offered so few meaningful details that Democratic members of JFC sent her a follow-up letter last week, which included questions about Walker plan’s impact on veterans.

Rhodes’ spokeswoman, Claire Smith, sent an email to the Shepherd stating that low-income adults on the exchanges would be eligible for federally funded tax-subsidies for their insurance plans, and those earning between 100% and 250% of the federal poverty level could receive federal tax subsidies for out-of-pocket expenses such as deductibles and co-pays.

Smith didn’t respond to the Shepherd’s questions about the impact of Walker’s plans on veterans, although she did acknowledge receiving the Democrats’ letter last week.

Military veterans are also feeling the negative effects of Walker’s economy in their high rate of unemployment. According to figures that Walker himself used in 2012, the unemployment rate for Wisconsin veterans was estimated to be between 13% and 15%, roughly twice the general population’s unemployment rate.

“A lot of people in our economy—not just veterans but including veterans—are very low income and the free market, the private sector, has failed to provide them with affordable insurance options,” Citizen Action’s Kraig said. “Playing with people’s lives in this way is denying them access to the American dream.”

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