Senator Tammy Baldwin sent a letter to Governor Walker today urging him to provide a few more months for BadgerCare recipients to shift to insurance purchased through the new Health Insurance Marketplace. Wisconsin officials expect to send letters at the end of November to about 77,000 people now on BadgerCare to notify that they will lose their coverage at the end of December because of new eligibility limits set by state lawmakers.
Getting those 77,000 people covered in the new Marketplace is essential if the state is to fulfill the Governor’s commitment to nearly cut in half the number of uninsured Wisconsinites. Yet as Baldwin’s letter points out, those individuals will have only about two weeks from when they get their notification letter to when they have to apply for coverage, verify that any employer insurance they are offered doesn't meet the affordability test, and pay the first premium. Baldwin’s letter adds:
Given the state’s current timeline for direct outreach to these individuals, the major issues with the federal government’s ACA website, and the fast-approaching deadline, thousands of people are at risk of losing their coverage. Therefore, I am writing to raise this concern and to offer potential options in the hope that we can work together to ensure our constituents maintain the health coverage they need.State officials such as DHS Secretary Kitty Rhoades have promised on numerous occasions that the BadgerCare changes contained in the budget bill are “tied to the exchanges being operational.” (See, for example, Rhoades’ recent column in the Journal Sentinel.) But thus far the Walker Administration shows no signs of being willing to move back the January 1 date, despite the fact that neither the state computer system changes nor the online federal enrollment system are far enough along to enable a smooth transition from BadgerCare to the Marketplace. (Read more in this recent WCCF blog post.)
Senator Baldwin’s letter offers a couple of potential solutions, including suggesting to the Governor that the state “alter your current request to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services so that BadgerCare enrollees maintain their current coverage through the end of March.”
I think delaying the January 1 cutoff makes sense for a number of reasons. I’ll elaborate on those in a future blog post, but for now I'll just touch on a few of the main points. Obviously, this is a matter of fairness and compassion for the affected families, who aren’t likely to have sufficient time to pick the right plan and pay their first premium – especially for the very low-income adults who don’t even have checking accounts or credit cards that enable them to pay the premium. In addition, as David Riemer of the Community Advocates Public Policy Institute pointed out, a delay would “help achieve the Governor’s commitment to cutting Wisconsin’s uninsured rate in half.”
Delaying the BadgerCare changes is also likely to help many people who aren’t now in BadgerCare, particularly the roughly 25,000 people who are now in the state’s high risk pool (HIRSP), who also have to get Marketplace coverage by December 15. That’s a group with significant chronic conditions, and their health could be in great jeopardy if they are uninsured in January. By helping avoid a huge logjam of applications in early December, Senator Baldwin’s recommendations could improve the enrollment process for all who apply for insurance through the new Marketplace.
The Milwaukee Business Journal reported today that the Wisconsin Hospital Association has also recommended a delay in transitioning people off BadgerCare.
You can find Senator Baldwin’s press release here. I hope her letter is one step in a bipartisan effort to keep Wisconsin moving forward toward the shared goal of cutting in half the uninsured rate, rather than moving sharply away from that goal in January.