September 26, 2013
by James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute
The Milwaukee County Board is considering a plan Thursday that would allow the expenditure of up to $729,000 to try to promote the health care exchanges of the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare. The plan would give $379,000 to four agencies while giving Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele the ability to spend an additional $350,000 as needed.
The plan is labeled as a compromise between Milwaukee County Board Chairman Marina Dmitrijevic and Abele. Dmitrijevic originally wanted to spend $1.1 million on social agencies and organizations to promote awareness of the federal health care exchange.
Abele had been working on a much less costly plan, a little over $200,000, with local agencies when Dmitrijevic began reaching out to organizations offering them money to promote the Obamacare exchanges.
The “compromise” was revealed the day before Abele releases his budget for 2014, which will contain no increase in the tax levy. The county board is likely to increase the budget and the tax levy over Abele’s vetoes.
The fight over the additional spending for promoting the Obamacare exchange is symbolic of the expenditure fights between Abele and the board. When asked earlier in the week about the dollar figure Dmitrijevic was using, Abele was unable to say where the board chairman even got her numbers.
Abele said the Community Health Access Program, part of the city of Milwaukee Health Department, was not asking for the $240,000 Dmitrijevic was promising. He said it was as if Dmitrijevic had started with the money to spend and then tried to figure out how to spend it, rather than determining the need first. The current proposal would give the agency $60,000.
Dmitrijevic’s office did not respond to a request for an interview.
Abele said there should have been two questions that should have been asked before Dmitrijevic made her original proposal.
“First question, what do we actually need in terms of resources to pay for getting this done.
“Second question, well, whose obligation is it? How much of it is the county’s? Obviously, we’re going to do something because we have a vested interest because it’s going to impact in a functional way a lot of the services we deliver for people who were covered one way but now are covered another way.”
Abele criticized how Dmitrijevic came up with her plan to spend over $1 million.
“I sure don’t see how you justify the process that doesn’t seem to have much discipline behind it. It feels a little reckless.”
Supervisor Deanna Alexander also questioned where Dmitrijevic came up with the numbers for the original plan. Alexander wondered how much of a surge there will be for information requests regarding the health care exchange. “One of the things I brought up to my fellow board members was how many calls do each of us get about the Affordable Care Act from our constituents? I have had less than five phone calls and a few repeat phone calls from one person.”
She also said a recent forum on the Affordable Care Act failed to draw the anticipated horde of people looking for answers. “You’d think that if there’s this huge number of people that are very concerned about the Affordable Care Act and what’s going to happen – I guess I’m not saying they’re not concerned. But if they’re concerned enough where they’re going to have all these questions and banging our doors down to get answers from the county, there would have been at least of handful of people to show up.”
Alexander also echoed Abele’s second question about the proposed expenditures. “The Affordable Care Act is a federal program. Governor Walker decided to allow it to remain a federal program, and yet it’s somehow Milwaukee County’s responsibility to come in and pick up the pieces. I know that we have a responsibility as elected officials and as public servants to answer the public’s questions, help people find answers to their concerns and their problems, and point them in the right direction. We are not the entity to solve the problem. But for Milwaukee County to take up an enormous and unprecedented task of coming in and cleaning up every mess the federal government makes, and trying to – I would almost say trying to make the program work – it’s just ridiculous.”
It may be ridiculous, but that’s exactly what the county is going to do. Whether it will cost $200,000 or $379,000 or $729,000 or even $1.1 million, Milwaukee County government is poised to make the Affordable Care Act less affordable for Milwaukee County’s taxpayers.