Tensions Run High at Senate Hearing

Maciver News Service – 

[Madison, Wisc…] It’s more important to get BadgerCare Plus Basic done fast, than it is to get it done perfectly,  Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Waunakee) repeatedly said at a Senate hearing Thursday.   

BadgerCare Plus Core, the state’s program for poor, childless adults, was only expected to serve about 40 thousand people during a two-year period, but that number was reached in only a few months.  The state had to cut off enrollment in October, leaving more than five thousand people on an initial waiting list.  Erbenbach says those five thousand people need something to help them right away. 

“We are totally up against the wall on this,”he said.  The legislative session ends April 22. 

Erbenbach is the author a bill to authorize Badger Care Plus Basic, intending for it to be a stopgap coverage solution for those eligible for, but shut out of the BadgerCare Plus Core Plan.

However, critics argue Erbenbach’s plan is impractical.  First of all, at $130 a month, it is cost prohibitive to low-income individuals, they say.  Also, since it may only serve five thousand people, the insurance pool is too small, bringing in only $7.8 million a year to cover medical costs. 

“If you get a couple of hits, boom, that sucker’s gone!  And that’s the life of being a government insurance company, and that’s the problem,” argued Sen. Ted Kanavas (R-Brookfield). 

Senator Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) also disagrees with Erpenbach’s plan.  “Badger Basic, continues everything that’s wrong with our current health care system,” she said bluntly. 

“Because the state doesn’t have any extra revenue, the plan is supposed to be paid for with premiums. But with 50% of the potential population without income, so it’s hard to set a premium low enough that covers costs,” Vinehout continued.  “Badger Basic puts the risk on the state and taxpayers.”

Vinehout then suggested a series of reforms to address these issues. After finishing her testimony, Erpenbach erupted. 

“So what do you suggest we do within the next five legislative minutes to fix this?” he demanded.  “We cannot leave this session and not do anything for these people on this waiting list.”

Erpenbach admits BadgerCare Plus Basic is far from ideal. 

“It’s not like we’re going out and saying ‘Hey, come on.  We’ve got this great plan.  People are showing up uninsured and they’re showing up in huge numbers,” he said. “We’re not doing anything new here.  We’re responding to a crisis.”

Although the discussion Thursday revolved around the intitial five thousand people on the waiting list, since October, the number has increased to over 23 thousand people.

**Update, despite the heated discussions, including those between the majority Democrats on the comittee, SB484 passed on a straight party line 4-3 vote today and  bill is on the Joint Finance Committee’s Tuesday calendar.

By Bill Osmulski