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Column: Medicaid expansion a wise investment for Wisconsin

10:52 AM, Feb. 6, 2013  |  Comments
Helen Marks Dicks
Helen Marks Dicks
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It is important to put a face on the decision of whether to expand Medicaid in Wisconsin.

Many people think of Medicaid or BadgerCare as programs that provide health care coverage to the poor, but few know that Wisconsin is home to an estimated 170,000 uninsured, many of whom are working adults who do not qualify for Medicaid even though they have little income.

These include people ages 50 to 64 who have lost their jobs or are struggling to find work. They are not yet eligible for Medicare and have paid into the system all their lives. As aging adults, they are facing the onset of health conditions that, if left untreated, inevitably will increase their need for and use of health and long-term care.

Also included in Wisconsin's group of uninsured are residents with mental health disorders. They make up a quarter of the uninsured population - people with major depression, bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia and others with less serious mental health disorders that affect their daily living.

Covering this population will reduce costly emergency room visits and reliance on traumatizing inpatient services. When these individuals access adequate health care supports, their health improves, they work more and, most importantly, they don't die prematurely.

While there is a price tag, the savings clearly weigh in Wisconsin's favor.

In the plus column is the increased federal match - which starts at 100 percent and never covers less than 90 percent of Wisconsin's costs. Add to that a significant savings to county taxpayers who will see federal reimbursement for services they currently provide to uninsured individuals who gain coverage in the expansion.

Morally, we know what happens if we say no to Medicaid expansion. Hard working taxpayers get sicker and die. Financially, we watch Wisconsin taxpayers pay for supports to people in other states. We watch innovators create new health care jobs in other states while our state's employers are forced to pay a $2,000 per employee tax. We see uncompensated care costs rise, creating higher premiums for others.

We must solidify our commitment to older Wisconsin adults and residents with disabilities. We urge Wisconsin to take advantage of federal dollars to expand Medicaid because it makes sense both for the health of Wisconsin residents and for the state budget.

Helen Marks Dicks is associate director for advocacy-state issues with AARP Wisconsin. Contact hmdicks@aarp.org.

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