Wednesday, October 16, 2019
From left, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, Gov. Tony Evers and state Senator Jennifer Shilling speak to reporters Tuesday outside Scenic Bluffs Community Health Center in Cashton. Herald photo by Pat Mulvaney

Lawmakers join Evers to push Medicaid expansion

Baldwin, Shilling, Evers tour Scenic Bluffs Community Health Center in Cashton

Wisconsin is losing $19.4 million a week by not expanding Medicaid and instead sends its tax dollars to states like New Jersey that have accepted federal dollars to bolster their health care programs.

That's the message Gov. Tony Evers, along with U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and state Senator Jennifer Shilling, were imparting at a press conference Tuesday after touring Scenic Bluffs Community Health Center in Cashton.

"We will continue to fight for (Medicaid expansion)," said Evers. "That is one of the things I ran on, one of the reasons that I stand here as governor."

Evers counted himself among the 70% of Wisconsinites who support Medicaid expansion, which originally was turned away by his predecessor, Scott Walker, and  rejected once again by the Republican controlled Budget Committee last June.

Evers has argued that denying Medicaid expansion is fiscally irresponsible because it annuls a projected $324 million in savings that he had planned to use for a number of initiatives, including community health programs, dental health services for the poor and to address mental health issues.

Baldwin said that between 60,000 and 70,000 Wisconsin residents lost their BadgerCare insurance due the state rejecting the federal funds.

Republicans have argued, it's better to keep those people in the private insurance market where they are eligible for highly subsidized plans offered through the marketplace under the Affordable Care Act.

But Baldwin claimed many of those people weren't picked up by the ACA.

"Rural Wisconsin was greatly affected by that decision if you just look at the numbers they were forced to report," she said.

She also alluded to the fact that the ACA is under attack. A federal appeals court in New Orleans is hearing an appeal of  a  lower court decision that ruled  the ACA unconstitutional. If that decision stands, it would leave 20 million people without health insurance and jeopardies coverage for those with pre-existing conditions.

Evers said he understands that Medicaid expansion is a partisan issue, but he seemed optimistic that enough Republican legislators would eventually agree to accepting the federal dollars.

"I'm of the opinion that logic eventually does prevail but if it doesn't, people running for office will be asked, 'do you want Medicaid expansion?' If they say no, chances are they are not going to get re-elected."

The lawmakers also were asked about how the government is addressing farmer suicide and access to mental health services in rural areas.

Evers said there is money set aside at the state level for those issues but it is being held up by the Joint Finance Committee, and he's having trouble getting them to release it. "They'll eventually do it but it's money that's needed now, not later," he said.

Baldwin referred to the Farmers First Act she helped author for the most recent Farm Bill, which allocated money for training those who work in ag-related businesses how to recognize farmers struggling mental health problems.

Shilling said it's also about removing the stigma associated with mental health services.

"To seek help for mental health service is no different than seeking help for a broken arm or broken leg and we need to make that a normal part of the health care system."

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