Sunday, October 15, 2006

Tom Reynolds: Heading the Opposite Direction on Health Care

There are certainly a number of good reasons to vote against State Senator Tom Reynolds (R-West Allis) next month based on his personality alone.

But for those in the 5th senate district who are looking for more concrete policy-based reasons to unseat Reynolds this fall, a big one is Reynold's idea for the state's Medicaid system.

Currently Medicaid reimbursement rates for providers are abysmally low in Wisconsin, as they are in most parts of the country. Those rates are set around 55 percent of the cost of care, which, according to the hospital lobby in Wisconsin, left a $550 million tab for unpaid costs in 2005 alone.

This results in a so-called "hidden health care tax" that's passed on to other health care recipients, subsequently driving up the overall cost of care.

Recently, the Wisconsin Hospital Association sent a questionnaire to Reynolds and his challenger, Jim Sullivan, asking them whether they would support the state raising the Medicaid reimbursement rate to reduce the size of the hidden health care tax.

Sullivan responded with a simple "Yes."

Reynolds, though, had this to say: "Would like to require a greater co-pay by Medicaid and BadgerCare recipients."

This comment demonstrates not only a lack of understanding for the ability of the poor, elderly, and disabled to pay for health care, but also for the federal regulations over the Medicaid system.

Last year, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities summarized the results of a number of studies that show a direct correlation between rising out-of-pocket health costs and skipping out on necessary medical care when it comes to the poor.

To raise Medicaid co-payments enough to have a noticeable impact on the $550 million unpaid reimbursement tab would without question keep those Wisconsinites who rely on Medicaid from accessing needed medical care. This, in turn, would only increase the long-term cost of care by encouraging simple problems to go untreated and potentially develop into more complicated ailments that require more expensive in-patient care.

There are also other more complex issues that could result from increasing co-payments, such as overburdening our already overburdened emergency rooms. Since federal law prohibits co-payments for emergency visits for all Medicaid recipients (for good reason), there's no question those on Medicaid would turn to emergency rooms for non-emergency issues just to avoid the co-payment (which is something that happens already, but raising the co-payment level would surely exacerbate it).

What's more, Reynold's comment disregards federal rules on the level at which states can set co-payments. Currently, the limit for most adult visits is $3, and there is no co-payment allowed under federal law for children. And one quick look at Wisconsin's current co-payment schedule tells us that the state is already charging the maximum for many types of visits.

While a waiver can be attained to exceed the co-payment maximum, doing so would not only risk the health of the hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites on Medicaid, but also -- in an ironic twist -- potentially decrease the amount of money collected through the nominal co-pay currently in place by reducing the number of people able to participate in the program.

All-in-all, it's clear Reynold's either hasn't given much thought to the health care situation in Wisconsin or he just doesn't care about the potentially disastrous results of his ideas.

In a time when we should be concerned with making health care more accessible to Wisconsinites -- particularly the 90,000 children in the state who currently go without it -- it's disturbing to see a state senator opting to head in the opposite direction.


Anonymous Dohnal said...

Reynolds, right again.

October 16, 2006  

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