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Medicaid

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Gov. Tony Evers, and Sen. Jennifer Shilling toured Scenic Bluffs Community Health Center in Cashton Tuesday before speaking to the press about Medicaid and farmer mental health. 

Two months after the state budget committee rejected Gov. Tony Ever’s plan to expand Medicaid, the governor, along with U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and state Sen. Jennifer Shilling, stressed their commitment to seeing the expansion through during a visit to Scenic Bluffs Community Health Center in Cashton.

Evers, Shilling and Baldwin toured the nonprofit health-care center Tuesday morning, meeting privately with staff before speaking to the media about health-care coverage, Medicaid and the shaky status of the Affordable Care Act, which if ruled unconstitutional could leave more than 20 million Americans without health insurance.

“It was quite inspirational frankly to have the tour and speak with the staff,” Baldwin, D-Wisc., said. “I am struck with the heroic work they actually do and always want to sort of ring an alarm bell for things we can do to make health care more affordable and accessible. ... As we speak, there is a court case ongoing trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If that happened (health-care access) would be greatly jeopardized.”

Baldwin also said, “The former governor shocked us all by not accepting the federal allocation for expanding Medicaid.” With the expansion again turned down by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Assembly, the state will be passing up $324 million in federal funding.

In 2017, 50% of patients who used Scenic Bluffs services in Cashton, Norwalk, Viroqua and Sparta paid for services using Medicaid, and 64 percent of all patients were considered at or below the federal poverty level.

About 7% of patients were members of the Amish community, and just under 9% had a primary language other than English.

“I’m always struck by how nimble this clinic is to responding to the needs of the community, if it’s mental health, if it’s pharmacy, if it’s dental care services, if it’s general health care,” Shilling, D-La Crosse, said, noting it continues to be a struggle to recruit dentists to practice in rural areas. “It’s a unique health center with a unique population.”

“If people are really struggling ... there’s a reason why we have community health centers throughout the state. We don’t have enough of them, but they are here to fill a very important service to provide health care to many who fall between the cracks in an imperfect, flawed health-care system,” Baldwin said.

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Both urban and rural Wisconsinites are suffering during the health care crisis, and financially in general, Evers said, noting the low hourly wages many are left to live off and a farming community that has been “absolutely decimated” with declining dairy prices and other obstacles.

In addressing farmer mental health, Evers noted his frustration in the delayed action to release funding allocated for the issue while Baldwin touched on the Farmers First Act and the efforts to train those working with or interacting with struggling farmers to recognize signs of stress or duress and make referrals.

Shilling, the Senate minority leader, expressed the need to take away some of the “stigma” surrounding depression and building bridges of trust, noting the inevitable strain residents are facing in the aftermath of historic flooding as well as the simultaneous decline of the dairy industry.

“The human spirit is resilient but it is exhausted after some of these natural disasters,” Shilling said.

Evers said he is holding strong on his fight for Medicaid expansion — one of his campaign platforms — saying the expansion would save money, bring in money, and “allow us to focus on some of the really disproportionate things that happen in the health-care world.”

Evers has some optimism, stating, “I’m of the opinion logic eventually does prevail,” but should the decision hold firm, the voters will likely choose not to elect or re-elect those who don’t support the expansion, he says.

Regardless, Evers says, “We are not giving up. We’re going to continue to go forward.”

“I’m always struck by how nimble this clinic is to responding to the needs of the community. ... It’s a unique health center with a unique population.” State Sen. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse

In 2017, 50% of patients who used Scenic Bluffs services in Cashton, Norwalk, Viroqua and Sparta paid for services using Medicaid, and 64 percent of all patients were considered at or below the federal poverty level.

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Emily Pyrek can be reached at emily.pyrek@lee.net.

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General assignment reporter

Emily Pyrek covers health, human interest stories and anything involving dogs for the La Crosse Tribune. She is always interested in story ideas and can be contacted at emily.pyrek@lee.net.

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