July 22, 2024 8:45 am
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Poor People’s Campaign Takes Medicaid Expansion Advocacy to the Halls of the Capitol

Credit: iStock

by Erik Gunn, Wisconsin Examiner

As both chambers of the state Legislature held floor sessions Wednesday, scores of Wisconsin Poor People’s Campaign activists rallied on the first floor of the state Capitol rotunda to draw attention to one of their top priorities in the state budget: expanding Medicaid, known as BadgerCare in Wisconsin.

Poor People’s Campaign activists say Medicaid expansion is particularly important because, starting next month, people enrolled in the health insurance program for the poor will have to begin renewing their membership in Medicaid annually. Medicaid recipients whose incomes have risen above Wisconsin’s current ceiling to qualify will face being disqualified from the program. 

Private insurance probably won’t help them, however, said Wayne Skattum, of Clinton, one of a dozen or so who addressed Wednesday’s rally. 

Skattum described avoiding health care even when he had insurance because of expensive deductibles and co-payments. Years after he had developed a limp from hip pain, he broke a bone in his leg and tore his rotator cuff after falling on the ice. By then, he also needed a hip replacement. 

Had he gotten treatment earlier, some of those expenses could have been avoided, Skattum believes. 

“We are told we don’t need Medicaid expansion or that the wave of cutoffs that is about to begin will be all right, because people who can’t get BadgerCare will be able to get employer sponsored plans or will have subsidies for the marketplace [HealthCare.gov],” Skattum told the crowd. “But these plans often carry unaffordable deductibles or copays like I had. People will avoid medical care like I had to.”

Skattum addressed his comments to lawmakers, whether they were at the rally or, as most were, elsewhere in the Capitol. “As elected officials you are sworn to protect us,” he said. The current system of health care doesn’t protect all of us, especially the marginalized.”

Wisconsin lawmakers, he said, should expand BadgerCare and guarantee all recipients continuous coverage, as was done for three years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Of all the injustices, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman,” Femi Akinmoladun, one of four people who share the role of chairing the Wisconsin Poor People’s Campaign, told the rally participants. “We are here for a healthy Wisconsin.”

Akinmoladun pointed to surveys that show 70% of Wisconsin residents support Medicaid expansion, and noted that the favorability numbers are about the same in urban, rural and suburban populations. 

Wednesday’s rally was a prelude to early afternoon visits by Poor People’s Campaign activists to the offices of members of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee. They brought gifts: file boxes decorated with the red cross symbolizing first aid and containing petition signatures of more than 900 people across the state calling for Medicaid expansion. 

The budget committee lawmakers will also be invited to attend an April 20 forum organized by the campaign to hear people talk about their need for affordable health care, Akinmoladun said in an interview.

“We’re here to put pressure on the Joint Finance Committee. They’re not listening to people,” said Akinmoladun. “We’re inviting them to listen to the voices of people in Wisconsin.” 

Congress suspended Medicaid’s annual renewal requirement early in the COVID-19 pandemic and required states to guarantee recipients continuous coverage. The federal government also boosted federal Medicaid payments to the states. The continuous coverage requirement ends April 1.

Medicaid enrollment in Wisconsin rose by about 400,000 in the three years of the requirement, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). DHS has not made a public estimate of how many people in Wisconsin might no longer qualify for Medicaid, whether because their income has increased or for some other reason, but the Poor People’s Campaign has cited an Urban Institute estimate that 300,000 Wisconsin residents could lose coverage.

In addition to rallying support for Medicaid expansion, Sarah Weintraub, another Wisconsin Poor People’s Campaign activist, said the organization is working to train people who are currently on Medicaid about their rights during the renewal process. That training includes information about what documents they need at renewal, how to verify the particular income limits that apply to them, and their right to appeal and the process for doing so if they are denied Medicaid, she said. 

In Wisconsin, the income ceiling for Medicaid is 100% of the federal poverty guideline: $1,215 a month or $14,580 a year for a single person, and $2,071 a month, or $24,860 a year, for a family of three, for example.

Under the federal Affordable Care Act, states that expand their Medicaid programs to include people with incomes up to 138% of the federal poverty guideline get a federal subsidy equivalent to 90% of the additional cost. That would allow people to remain on BadgerCare in Wisconsin with incomes of up to $1,676 a month, or $20,120 a year, for a single person and $2,857, or $34,295 a year, for a family of three. 

Gov. Tony Evers has proposed Medicaid expansion in his 2023-25 budget, which the Legislature’s Republican majority removed from his two previous budgets. Accepting expansion would save the state $1.6 billion over the budget’s two-year cycle, according to the Evers administration. 

Joyce Frohn of Oshkosh told the rally about her husband, who has an  extraordinarily rare condition with a treatment that costs tens of thousands of dollars a month. After being denied disability several times, he has finally qualified, which allows him to have Medicaid coverage that covers the treatment, she said. 

Frohn qualified for BadgerCare earlier in the pandemic. “I have been working a hodgepodge of jobs that are low-paid and erratic, but my husband’s disability income will put us over the household limit for BadgerCare, even though we don’t have enough to afford insurance premiums, copays or deductibles,” she said. 

Her own chronic conditions, including asthma, “make it critical for me to have access to care and prescriptions,” Frohn added. “If Wisconsin moved forward with Medicaid expansion, we might qualify” with the higher income limits.

Frohn joined the Poor People’s Campaign “because we need universal health care,” she said, but she also told the rally of a deeper connection to the cause.

“My parents were part of the original Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, and I went to Washington, D.C., in June with my daughter because we didn’t do enough the first time around,” she said. “We will keep building a movement until all people can live with dignity and everybody has a right to live.”

This story was written by Erik Gunn, Deputy Editor at the Wisconsin Examiner, where this story first appeared.

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.