Gretchen Gilham of La Crosse says she and her daughter are beset with health problems they can’t address because they can’t afford insurance.
“I wish you could understand what it is like not to have insurance,” the 51-year-old Gilham said Monday at a press conference in the La Crosse County Administrative Center. “I wish you could stand in the cold outside a free clinic, not knowing whether you will get in.”
Gilham, Democratic state legislators and other officials are urging Republican Gov. Scott Walker to accept $12 billion in federal Medicaid money over a 10-year period to expand BadgerCare for low- and moderate-income residents.
Walker, who has expressed reservations about accepting the money, has said he will reveal his decision when he unveils his budget Feb. 20.
Gilham, who doesn’t receive health benefits through her part-time janitorial job, said she has diverticulitis and needs a colonoscopy.
She is among an estimated 3,600 low-income La Crosse County residents who could qualify for BadgerCare if Walker accepted the money under the federal Affordable Care Act, the officials said.
Statewide, an estimated 172,000 to 220,000 adults between ages 18 and 65 without children living at home — including about 1,630 in Monroe County, 1,120 in Vernon County, 890 in Trempealeau County and 650 in Jackson County — could qualify for coverage if Walker accepts the money, advocates say.
“We’re here to tell him, ’Take the money, dude,’ to improve the quality of life of thousands,” said Monica Kruse, a county supervisor who is chairwoman of the county board’s Health and Human Services Committee.
Under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, the federal government would cover the full cost of the expansion for the first three years, from 2014 to 2016, and 90 percent a year thereafter. The state could opt out after three years.
Walker press secretary Cullen Werwie said the governor’s previous budget “increased state taxpayer spending on Medicaid by $1.2 billion—the largest increase in our state’s history, and one of the largest increases per capita in the country.”
“We’re still evaluating the impact future Medicaid expansions would have on Wisconsin citizens,” Werwie said.
Advocates contend that accepting the federal money would save the state and businesses millions of dollars and provide as many as 10,000 new health care jobs.
In addition to covering the childless adults, advocates say it would provide coverage for 146,000 people who are on a waiting list because of caps on BadgerCare, which is where Gilham’s daughter falls.
Gilham said her daughter, 31-year-old Olivia Margenau of Fort Atkinson, has congenital heart disease that requires a transplant.
“The doctors told her her heart is worn out and they don’t know how long it will last,” she said. “She can’t be put on a donor list without insurance.”
Margenau also has diabetes she has trouble controlling because she can’t afford testing supplies, so she ends up needing emergency room treatment, Gilham said.
Dr. Laurie Logan, a family practitioner at the Mayo Clinic Health System-La Crosse, said low-income people without insurance struggle so much paying day-to-day bills that they postpone health care.
As a result, they often end up using the more expensive emergency room when their problems become severe, she said.
And those costs get shifted to insured patients, said Rep. Steve Doyle, D-Onalaska, who also is a county supervisor.
State Sen. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said noted that some GOP governors who have been staunch critics of Obamacare, such as Jan Brewer of Arizona, are embracing the Medicaid expansion.
The most recent Republican to do so is Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who derided the health care law as a “massive new tax on the middle class” last summer.
On Monday, Kasich included the expansion in his two-year budget plan, making 365,000 more state residents eligible for Medicaid.
Although he said he still objects to parts of the overall law, he said the Medicaid expansion “makes great sense for the state of Ohio.”