Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Would Mark Green Support BadgerCare Plus?

WI Department of Health and Family Services secretary Helene Nelson is visiting different parts of the state to discuss Governor Doyle's BadgerCare Plus proposal.

An article in the Oshkosh Northwestern discusses one of these visits to the Fox Valley yesterday.

The goal of the BadgerCare Plus plan is to expand health coverage to every child in Wisconsin and many currently uninsured adults. The estimate is that the plan will reach half a million Wisconsinites once implemented -- almost 20 percent of the beneficiaries would be children.

And the need is certainly there. According to a Journal-Sentinel article on Monday, an estimated 91,000 children in the state lack health coverage. About 2/3 of those kids could qualify for Medicaid and BadgerCare, but enrollment issues are stopping them -- either because parents aren't aware of the programs or they don't think they qualify.

The BadgerCare Plus plan would simplify the process by merging the family Medicaid, BadgerCare, and Healthy Start programs currently operating in the state. There would only be one set of eligibility requirements under BadgerCare Plus, which makes enrollment significantly easier for families.

In addition, the plan would raise the income ceiling for participants to up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) and cover pregnant women up to 300 percent of the FPL.

What's more, due to the administrative streamlining inherent in the plan, it would save an estimated $20 million annually over what is paid now to cover the separate family Medicaid, BadgerCare, and Healthy Start programs.

This savings is similar to the savings realized when the state health insurance plan for state employees was overhauled a few years ago. By centralizing the payers in that system and consolidating the prescription drug coverage under a single payer, the state health insurance plan has become a model for states around the country. Over $14.5 million was saved in negotiations with providers in 2005 alone.

At least one Republican in the state is backing the BadgerCare Plus initiative. State Senator Carol Roessler (R-Oshkosh) applauded the program yesterday. "What is being proposed here," she said, "is collapsing pools of money to make them go a better distance, help more people and make a more effective delivery system."

The question remains, however, whether Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green supports the plan.

Doyle plans to include the program in his 2007-2009 biennial budget proposal. Would Green do the same if he's elected?

So far Green has not said anything about BadgerCare Plus on the record. In fact, all he has offered on health care reform thus far is that he supports "private sector solutions" to the growing crisis, which amounts to state income tax breaks for health savings accounts (HSAs already exist and are tax-deductible on federal income taxes).

I think the people of Wisconsin deserve to know where Green stands on the BadgerCare Plus proposal prior to heading to the polls this November.

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