More than 500,000 Wisconsin children are covered by Medicaid. These children, along with the 750,000 older, disabled and low-income Wisconsinites who rely on Medicaid, are now in jeopardy.
Recently, the House of Representatives voted to cut the program by 25 percent over the next 10 years. The Senate’s health-care plan would cut Medicaid over a longer timeline than the House bill, but the cuts would be deeper because the bill changes the program’s funding formula.
Both the House and Senate plans would cap how much the feds will pay, sticking the states with the rest of the tab. Each state will have to decide what cruel actions to take in response: kicking people off Medicaid, rationing or eliminating services, or instituting long wait lists.
If you’re thinking, “Oh, Wisconsin would never do that,” consider this: in the House bill, our state would need to increase state spending on Medicaid (the largest program in the state budget) by 30 percent in 2021 to avoid cutting services. That won’t happen. Our Legislature would never increase taxes that much, or cut highways, schools or prisons that much.”
At the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, 54 percent of the patients have their health care paid for by Medicaid. Do you believe all those kids will get the care they need with federal funding cuts that big? I don’t.
Over the last 20 years, aging and disability advocates including myself have worked with four governors and legislators in both parties to end wait lists for Medicaid long-term care. That goal is now within reach, but a huge cut in federal funding would turn back the clock to the long wait lists of the 1990s. People with disabilities may end up back in institutions.
And what about schools? In the 2016-17 school year alone, Wisconsin schools received $187 million in Medicaid funding for school services. The cuts Congress is considering would likely cost many school nurses, psychologists and therapists their jobs.
Hubert Humphrey said the “moral test of government” is how it treats its most vulnerable members. It’s hard to remember the last time this test was put to us in such stark terms.
If we throw poor people, people with disabilities, and older adults who need long-term care under the bus, let’s have our eyes wide open to what we’re doing. This would be a wholesale rejection of the idea that we’re all in this together, that people who don’t need help from government will help those who do.
The first time around, all of Wisconsin’s Republican House members voted for these cuts and all the Democrats voted against them. Our two Senators, Democrat Tammy Baldwin and Republican Ron Johnson, have yet to cast their votes. Even the House members who voted on this bill before may need to vote again on a revised version.
The people of Wisconsin must decide what kind of a state we want, and let our Congressional representatives know.