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Health Care a Top Concern at Milwaukee Public Hearing on Wisconsin's Budget

Hundreds of Milwaukee area residents expressed strong opinions on how Wisconsin should spend money over the next two years

People came armed with numbers to the hearing the Joint Finance committee conducted on Gov. Walker's proposed budget for the state for the next two years. And many wanted to testify about health care issues.

Carl Lock of Brookfield told the legislators that many Wisconsinites suffered when the governor, a few years ago, rejected federal money to allow people earning up 133% of the poverty line to take part in Medicaid programs. Instead, Walker moved all people living above poverty off the state’s low-income health care program, BadgerCare, and into the federal marketplace.

“Wisconsin is proud to say it has created a health care system that covers everyone. Unfortunately if we had adopted Medicaid expansion, we would have saved the taxpayers of our state $200 million per year. By the year 2020, the lost savings will amount to over $1 billion,” he said.

Lock called on the governor to reverse his move in the upcoming state budget.

“By moving 83,000 people from the marketplace back to BadgerCare, we will reduce insurance costs for those remaining in the marketplace, provide usable health care for those struggling just above the poverty line and free up money to invest in worthwhile programs, like those that treat mental illness and drug addiction,” he said.

While Lock pleaded with Joint Finance to restore cuts, another person proposed something new.  Jan Thornberg is a volunteer for the AARP. She said her group wants the governor to provide some financial relief for in-home caregivers.

Thornberg said Wisconsin has nearly 600,000 caregivers; many are family members. "The average family caregiver spends about $7,000 per year on out of pocket costs. Three in 10 caregivers have dipped into their personal savings to pay for care and one in six caregivers has reduced contributions to their own retirement savings. Family caregiver support is crucial to maintaining quality for older Wisconsinites and ensure that seniors can remain at home or in the care of their families instead of reside in expensive institutions that cost taxpayer money."

Thornberg urged Joint Finance to include in the budget a $1,000 caregiver tax credit to help offset out-of-pocket costs.

Crystal Wess of Milwaukee implored the committee to preserve funding for Wisconsin’s Tobacco Prevention and Control Program. She said an increasing number of young people are experimenting with e-cigarettes and have alarming access.

“Have you heard about the electronic cigarettes and those little cigars? Well, so have our kids and it is a war on our children. Each one of these children, and don’t think it can’t happen to you or your children or your grandchildren, they can get these products very easily. They are within 500 yards of most schools,” Wess said.

She said the program has helped scores of people quit smoking over the years. Right now, it does not appear the item is on the chopping block, but lawmakers are looking for places to cut spending.

Sandra Helinski opposes a budget provision that eliminates the state’s Radiography Examining Board, and consolidates its duties within another board. Helinski is a registered radiologic technologist and fears the move could lead to life-threatening mistakes in cancer diagnoses.

“The $50,000 of approximate cost savings that the elimination of the Radiography Examining Board and other professional boards is minimal, considering the cost that a misguided diagnostic pap from incompetent radiographic practices means to a patient,” Helinski said.

Other issues that occupied a lot of time on Wednesday include education fundingand criminal justice reform.

The Legislature's budget committee will hold several more hearings across the state during the next two weeks, then begin adjusting the budget next month.

Audio courtesy of WisconsinEye.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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