April 12, 2014
I am writing to update you on recent health care happenings at the Capitol and beyond.
Recently President Obama announced that through the Affordable Healthcare Act over 9 million US citizens have access to health care coverage. In Wisconsin about 15% of those eligible have signed up for health coverage through the federal Marketplace exchange as of March 1st. This sign-up rate is similar to the national average. But Wisconsin still has about 400,000 people without coverage.
Beginning April 1st, people without minor children at home who make 100% or less of the federal poverty level (childless adults) are eligible for BadgerCare. I’ve spoken with many people in the past few weeks that were able to gain coverage through BadgerCare.
There is no deadline to sign-up for BadgerCare. If you know people who need insurance and have incomes under about $11,500 for a single and about $15,500 for a couple, remind them about the new childless adult coverage.
Like any electronic system, signing up for BadgerCare can at times hit a snag. If you or someone you know is having trouble enrolling in BadgerCare, please refer them to my office for assistance.
Mental health is another area of great concern for many of us. In this past legislative session a number of bills passed that provide some help for improving the coordination of mental health services, reducing barriers to care and promoting early intervention. In addition a small increase in funding was provided to increase the number of counties able to offer treatment courts to assist those with addiction.
Getting treatment involves the work of many in our mental health and court systems. In coordination with tribal leaders, Representative Mursau and I were able to change state law so tribes can now provide addiction assessment and treatment through tribal health programs.
Wisconsin can do much more to assist those with mental illness and addiction. Advocates asked the Legislature for an increase of $75 million to fund addiction treatment courts statewide. Legislators approved only a meager increase of two and a half million for the program. While I supported this increase it was woefully inadequate for needs around the state.
To demonstrate that the state could make significant investment in mental health and addiction recovery, I wrote an alternative budget which showed my colleagues how we could make that investment using the dollars in our current budget. While I did not convince a majority of my colleagues to fund the budget amendments I offered, I was encouraged to hear Senator Fitzgerald speak about the importance of treatment courts. Attitudes toward mental health are changing. But now we must act.
In other health-related bills, the Legislature agreed to provide parity between intravenous chemotherapy and oral chemotherapy. This is a compassionate action for those battling cancer. This bill was amended to create a $100 copayment per oral chemo prescription. However, the language was poorly drafted and may cause people to spend more than $100 a month for their medications. If you hear of this happening, please call my office.
The Silver Alert bill, which created a system similar to the missing children Amber Alert, focuses on adults over 65 who suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. This new program will help prevent tragedies by broadcasting alerts of missing adults.
Much remains to be done to protect people’s health and provide health security for all. I strongly support a state-run health marketplace and introduced bills to create such in the last three legislative sessions. Perhaps because Wisconsin does not have its own exchange; perhaps because the state didn’t accept expanded Medicaid money from the federal government; perhaps because the state chose not to use rate review powers to hold down costs, people in Wisconsin are paying too much for coverage in the federal exchange. This is a solvable problem. Ideology is the main reason the governor chose not to act.
Your advocacy is vital to getting the word out about what has happened in the Capitol and how this action – or inaction – affects people’s health in our neighborhoods. I very much appreciate your advocacy. Please feel free to contact me with ideas related to health care – or any other topic of concern.
Wisconsin State Senator
31st Senate District