November 5, 2008
The brochure headline read; “Government spends too much”. I think everyone is glad the election is over. Part of our fatigue is what we’ve seen in our mail box. We have all seen some version of ‘Government spends too much’.
Of course, the brochure never describes how to and what will be cut.
Every state elected official returning to our capital will face a very deep budget deficit. In fact, across our nation, elected officials are doing the math and learning the details of a very difficult budget year ahead. The downturn in the economy had caused financial problems in many states.
It is critical for Republicans and Democrats alike to put aside campaign rhetoric and find ways to do more with less.
I don’t know if we can put aside the rhetoric long enough to have a real discussion on what the state should and should not fund. The decisions will be difficult: how does one decide whether to fund programs for the disabled or programs to clean up toxic waste sites?
I have noticed we seldom take the time to assess what we do right and to build on our successes. Let me share one of the successes.
With the tight economy, folks have contacted me with concerns about medical care – tough times make it even harder for families to afford health insurance (and food and heat for that matter).
In the last budget, I and others voted to expand a program to provide health care known as BadgerCare. This expansion, known as BadgerCare Plus, brought health care coverage to children and families who otherwise would have none. Since early spring, over eighty-five thousand people have health care coverage under the program. About seventy percent of those covered are children.
The story of BadgerCare Plus is a tremendous success story. Over 200 organizations – groups like the Boys and Girls Clubs and church groups – were trained as community partners and taught how to sign people up for BargerCare Plus.
A new website allows applications to be made over the internet. The site – access.wi.gov – is easy to use. In addition to applying for BadgerCare Plus, the website will help you figure out if your family is eligible for food, home heating and prescription drug assistance. People covered by Medicare but needing help with prescription drugs can sign up for Wisconsin’s SeniorCare program.
This spring internet applications exceeded those mailed in – and nearly exceeded the number of applications processed at county human services offices.
The new BadgerCare Plus program redesigns and merges several state health programs into one. By using the internet to help folks apply, county human services offices saw some reduction in workload. We have more people participating in the program – but more money goes to serving those people and less to administration.
Jason Helgerson, Wisconsin’s Medicaid Director, told me he estimates the restructured BadgerCare Plus program saved local government about $12 million and saved the state about $2 million.
The bulk of the savings came from streamlining the process from a person’s initial application to approval into the program. There are now fewer interactions between county staff and those seeking assistance and less paperwork.
A problem still remains – people with low incomes who do not have children are not eligible for BadgerCare Plus (mostly because of federal government rules). The state sought to waive those rules and that request was approved last week. This is very good news for people who are single or families without children at home.
But the news comes at a time when state resources are so tight. Even with federal permission, the state may have to delay expansion of BadgerCare Plus to childless adults.
This will be one of the difficult decisions facing elected officials. In the coming months, we all must work together to cut costs and find new ways to preserve services.