Congress must “grow up and work together” to avert disastrous cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, state Rep. Steve Doyle said Thursday.
“What’s not going on in Washington affects everyone,” the Onalaska Democrat said. “The fallout at the state level ... is the largest impediment to the state budget.”
Doyle made the comments during a news conference at the La Crosse County Administrative Center, at which he and other local officials joined representatives of nursing homes, aging agencies and residents to rally against looming cuts.
Their pleas came a day after President Barack Obama’s first post-election meeting with Republican leaders seeking a deficit-reduction deal to avoid triggering $1.2 trillion in mandatory federal budget cuts Jan. 2.
The reductions, required under a measure Congress passed last year, would cost Medicare and Medicaid billions of dollars.
The slicing would affect not only recipients of the federal Medicare program and the federal-state Medicaid program but also state and local budgets and jobs, said Doyle, who also is a La Crosse County Board member.
For example, Doyle said, a 5 percent cut in Medicaid would result in a $500 million loss to Wisconsin and imperil 5,000 jobs in the health care industry in the state.
“It takes the Wisconsin budget from a surplus to a deficit,” he said.
About 19,000 residents of La Crosse County rely on Medicaid, County Board Chairwoman Tara Johnson said, adding that county nursing homes also depend on the funding.
The $7.1 million that Lakeview Health Center receives from Medicaid accounts for half of the budget for the county-operated West Salem facility, she said. Lakeview has 147 residents and provides the full-time equivalent of 200 jobs.
Hillview Health Care Center, a county facility in La Crosse with 147 residents, gets $6.8 million from Medicaid.
“We’re asking our members of Congress to protect these vital services. We expect them to fight for us,” Johnson said.
“Please go back and find a (budget) solution that protects Medicare and Medicaid for La Crosse County, the state of Wisconsin and Americans,” she said. “Private nursing homes and hospitals also are heavily reliant on these dollars.”
Hillview administrator Pete Eide said in an interview that budget cuts already have strained his facility, which employs 300, many of them part-time.
“Enough is enough,” he said. “The staff does some of the toughest work. We must honor them and pay them decent wages and benefits.”
Additional reductions could force layoffs, he said, adding, “If there are cuts, we no longer can take care of the greatest generation.
“Every nursing home’s budget is razor thin,” he said. “Our goal is to break even, but we need to be properly reimbursed.”
Noreen Holmes, director of the La Crosse County Aging Unit, fears such cuts would eliminate coverage for preventive health care.
“Prevention is better than having to treat illnesses,” she said. “Delaying or preventing nursing home placement will save money.”
“If they are cutting for the sake of saving money, what’s the plan for people already out of money?” she said. “Look toward the future, not just the bottom line.”
Larry Olson a 44-year-old from Onalaska, attended the press conference. He said long-term disabilities prevent him from getting a job and force him to depend on Medicare, Medicaid and Western Wisconsin Cares, an agency that contracts with the state health department to provide services in Buffalo, Clark, Jackson, La Crosse, Monroe, Pepin, Trempealeau and Vernon counties.
“Western Wisconsin Cares has given me a place to live and help with my medications,” Olson said. “Without them, I’d be facing homelessness.”
Elaina Peterson, 50, of La Crosse also depends on Medicare and Western Wisconsin Cares as she struggles with several debilitating illnesses, including complications from diabetes, a successful battle with cancer and other health problems.
“I would not be here today without those two programs,” she said.