Advocacy group urges for BadgerCare expansion as part of state budget

May 10—EAU CLAIRE — The Chippewa Valley Free Clinic in Eau Claire has a capacity to see between 500 and 600 patients, says executive director Maribeth Woodford. She said free and low-cost clinics in the state are seeing an influx of patients.

"They will see more patients than they likely have the capacity for," Woodford said Wednesday. "It's hard for people to make the decision to go to an emergency (room) because their dollars are stretched so thin."

Woodford was among several people who gathered Wednesday at the free clinic to advocate for the state to accept Medicaid Expansion, which would add to the state's BadgerCare program, which serves uninsured and under-insured residents in the state.

Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, said his group is touring the state to push for the funding. With North Carolina set to accept Medicaid expansion this year, Wisconsin will now be one of just 10 states who haven't taken the federal dollars. Kraig noted that North Carolina is similar to Wisconsin, in that there is a Democratic governor and a Republican-controlled Legislature, yet they worked together to get the measure approved.

"The stakes are that Wisconsin is turning down $2.2 billion (over the biennium) that would fund BadgerCare for 90,000 additional individuals," Kraig said.

As part of his proposed budget, Gov. Tony Evers included the BadgerCare expansion. However, the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee stripped the Medicaid funding, along with more than 500 other items, last week.

Medicaid expansion was first offered in 2013 as part of the Affordable Care Act, commonly called "Obamacare." Kraig said that in the past 10 years, Wisconsin has never had a clean up-or-down vote on accepting the Medicaid dollars.

"They don't want a debate on this, and they don't want a clean vote," Kraig said.

Kraig contends that not accepting the BadgerCare expansion will cost the state $1.6 billion in this budget that can be used for other programs.

Julia Bennker, a BadgerCare recipient and child care provider, spoke at the event, saying she has a medical condition that doesn't make it possible for her to work full time. Bennker said that means she can't get insurance from her employer. So, she works just enough hours to qualify for BadgerCare and not lose her benefits

"If BadgerCare is expanded, I can work more hours," Bennker said. "BadgerCare expansion can help us solve our child care crisis."

Pam Guthman, a retired assistant professor from UW-Eau Claire's Nursing & Health Sciences program, said the state needs to accept the funding so everyone can obtain insurance.

"This rhetoric is stopping us from caring about one another," Guthman said. "It is critically important that everyone in our community has access to health care."

Guthman contends that about eight in 10 people in the state have said in polling data that they want health care to be more affordable for everyone.

"It makes sense, and it makes financial cents," Guthman said.