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Eye on the

 Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, WisconsinOctober 13, 2006 Issue 

BadgerCare Plus will bring health care to more children

Proposal is not perfect, but it's the right next step

By Kathy Markeland

Wisconsin has historically done a good job of providing health care coverage through strong employer-based programs and relatively generous public benefit plans. But new data from the Department of Health and Family Services (DHFS) suggests that we are headed in the wrong direction.

Between 2003 and 2004 the number of uninsured children in Wisconsin jumped from 85,000 to 91,000 - a 6% increase in the number of uninsured children in just a year. Children in "near poor" families were the most likely to lack coverage.

Meanwhile, the rate of employer-sponsored health insurance is dropping. The percentage of employers offering coverage has dropped significantly since 2001, going from 77% of employers down to 69% in 2004. Employees that still have coverage have seen out-of-pocket health care costs rising faster than their wages.

In a series of town hall meetings around the state, DHFS has recently been touting a plan, dubbed BadgerCare Plus, that could help reverse this trend and move Wisconsin toward health care coverage for all of our children.

BadgerCare Plus would expand upon the success of the state's BadgerCare program, which was launched in 1999 as a federal "waiver" program. Increasingly, the federal government has allowed states under such "waivers" to take federal funds and tailor state health care programs to meet local needs.

BadgerCare Plus proposes to increase access to state health care programs that are already covering hundreds of thousands of state residents and to fund those expansions by reducing inefficiencies in the current public benefits programs and allowing individuals to "buy into" the plan.

Currently the state operates a number of federally assisted health care programs for families in poverty and pregnant women. However, beneficiaries cannot transition easily from one program to another.

Under BadgerCare Plus, the programs would become virtually seamless, allowing families to move between the various programs as income levels grow or shrink. In addition, low-income families that currently exceed the income thresholds would be able to "buy into" the plans, if they do not have affordable health care offered by their employer.

As a church that speaks of health care as "a basic human right, an essential safeguard of human life and dignity," we should welcome the well-intentioned efforts of policymakers to expand coverage.

The U.S. bishops have emphasized that health care should not depend on where someone works, how much their parents earn or where they live. Programs, like BadgerCare, have looked at the needs of families and by expanding family access, successfully covered more of Wisconsin's children.

BadgerCare Plus is not perfect. But it is a step that may move us closer to a time when every child in Wisconsin will have access to affordable, quality health care services.

(Markeland is associate director of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, the civil arm of the state's five diocesan bishops.)

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