18 November 2011

The Message of the Occupy Movement

The rumblings from detractors have been clarifying.  The questionable occupation of bridges around the United States have allowed a chorus of interlocutors to ask: What is the message of the Occupy movement?

On one hand the message is very clear: people should be allowed to pitch tents wherever they damn well please.  It sounds comical or whimsical at first glance but when delved into a bit deeper it seems entirely plausible that these Occupiers have actually struck gold.

The predatory capitalism that has been practiced in the US has erected feudal lords who own massive tracts of land loaded with massive mansions, massive cars, massive airplanes, and massive consumption, while the peasant farmers sow the crops and raise the animals, and impoverished unemployed cower in urban sprawl and disappear in rural anonymity.

While the few prosper, the rest of the population struggles to put food on the table let alone worry over health costs.

In feudal times land owners controlled legislation, manipulated government with cash, and controlled the masses through concentrated and focused propaganda.  Shays' Rebellion was a direct result of the wealthy manipulating the poor.  Shays' Rebellion was a the catalyst for the forming of our Constitution and the reason for Article III, Section 3:
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.
And also, Article IV, Section 2:
A Person charged in any State with Treason, Felony, or other Crime, who shall flee from Justice, and be found in another State, shall on Demand of the executive Authority of the State from which he fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having Jurisdiction of the Crime.
Today the same dichotomy holds sway.  The rich make policy, the poor make pudding, if they can afford the ingredients.

While the dissent of Ed Flynn was treated as confrontational, the Occupy movement should thank the Milwaukee police chief for clarifying an important point and making it even stronger when he said, "this neighborhood has 35% unemployment."   That, Chief, is precisely the root of the problem.

Many of these detractors have also directed protesters to get jobs.  Many of those protesting do have jobs - low wage positions - and yet many others represent the burgeoning group of unemployed.  It's very easy to claim that getting jobs would solve their problems but this just isn't true.  A job only solves one problem and creates many more.

Working for minimum wage in this country means earning $7.25 per hour.  That's $290 per 40 hour week and $15,080 per year if every week is a forty o hour week.  The knuckleheads who think that getting jobs will solve the protesters' problems are deranged and out of touch with the reality of the working poor.  They have become weapons and tools of the feudal lords, robber barons, and millionaire despots.  Getting a job would only solve one problem: where to go and what to do for 8 hours (or however long a shift happens to last).

While the landowners (not individual farmers), and robber barons manipulate investments and legislation, jobs get shipped off to poorer markets with lower wages, unemployment in the US rises, and ownership dwindles.  The infrastructure collapses and the country implodes.

That's precisely the point of the Occupy movement.

10 November 2011

And yet, "Lawmakers OK changes that could drop 65,000 from Medicaid"

By Jason Stein of the Journal Sentinel

Madison - The Legislature's nonpartisan budget office projects 65,000 people - nearly half of them children - would leave or be turned away from the state's health programs for the poor, under a proposal passed by lawmakers Thursday.

The Joint Finance Committee approved 11-4 a proposal by GOP Gov. Scott Walker's administration to help bridge a more than half-billion dollar budget gap in the rapidly growing health plans. All Republicans voted in favor and all Democrats against.The proposal doesn't need any further approval from state lawmakers but must still win federal approval from President Barack Obama's administration by the end of the year - a significant hurdle.

The Medicaid health plans cover about one in five state residents - almost 1.2 million people - and provide everything from doctor visits for poor families to nursing home care for the elderly. To help control rapidly increasing costs in the programs, Walker's administration wants to decrease benefits for a quarter of a million recipients, increase premiums for tens of thousands of others by up to tenfold, and drop coverage for adults and children for at least a year if a family misses a payment.

Advocates said they were concerned about the impact of the changes, particularly on the participants who will end up leaving the program because they lose their eligibility or because they can't or won't make the higher premium payments.
"Most of them will probably end up uninsured and will no longer have access to preventive health care when they need it," Jon Peacock, research director for the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, said before the hearing.

Medicaid programs like BadgerCare Plus and Family Care are jointly paid for by state and federal taxpayers, with the state budgeting to pay $6.73 billion in state and federal money for them this year. State spending is up significantly, but the overall spending in the program will still decline this year by an estimated 7% because a surge of federal aid money has run out.

The Walker administration and Republican lawmakers said the state has no other options to deal with the health programs besides raising taxes. They noted that Medicaid programs are gobbling up more and more of the state budget and squeezing out other key priorities like schools.

They said some other states are simply booting recipients from the program even if they have no other options. State Health Services Secretary Dennis Smith, who formerly oversaw Medicaid programs for the federal government under then-President George W. Bush, said the Wisconsin proposal would have "national significance."
"Under our approach, individuals would lose coverage only if they make the choice not to pay a fair share of their coverage," Smith said, adding later, "We're at least giving people a choice."

Smith and Rep. Robin Vos (R-Rochester), the co-chairman of the Joint Finance Committee, said that they believed many of the people who leave the program will go to private insurance instead. But the Department of Health Services offered no estimate on how many would be able to get private coverage.

"All of us wish we could do more but the money just isn't there," Vos said before the hearing.

Democrats said Republicans had approved tax breaks for businesses and the wealthy this year that worsened the cuts. The Democrats said some uninsured will get sick and receive expensive emergency room care, pushing costs off on Wisconsin hospitals and the insured patients who go to those hospitals.

According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the proposals would save $298 million over two years and would also :
  • Move 263,000 people in BadgerCare Plus - more than half of them children - into a plan with lower costs for taxpayers but fewer benefits for recipients. Smith said the benefits were still attractive when compared with private plans.
  • Increase BadgerCare Plus premiums sharply for families with incomes of one and a half times the federal poverty limit. The new premiums would be 5% of household income, a change that would have a varying impact for families according to income.
For instance, a single parent with two children who makes more than $27,795 a year would typically see his or her annual premiums rise to $1,390 from $120 - a more than tenfold increase. In all, the higher premiums would apply to 91,500 BadgerCare Plus participants - almost two-thirds of them children.
Democrats said the premium hikes were unacceptably high. Republicans said those premiums were still less than the private sector would charge.

Drop both adults and children from the program for one year if participants failed to pay their monthly premium without a valid excuse. Currently, adults are dropped for six months for failure to pay but children are not.
Put in new eligibility standards such as checks to make sure participants live in the state.

Make little or no cuts for low-income disabled and elderly participants, who account for much of the costs in Medicaid.

The committee chose not to make up for a hole of at least $45 million in the program's budget, which could prove a future financial trap. That shortfall opened after the state learned that it wouldn't receive a windfall in federal money to make up for certain past Medicaid costs improperly charged to states like Wisconsin.

Rep. Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee) said that she believed many poor families would drop out of the program because they don't have the money to afford the new premiums.

"That doesn't sound like a choice to me," Grigsby said. "We're giving them a heck of a Christmas gift, a heck of a holiday surprise."

The state will need approval by Dec. 31 from the federal government to make the proposed changes. Otherwise, Wisconsin could be forced to generate immediate savings by dropping 53,000 adults from its health plans under that year-end deadline included in the budget law passed this summer by Republican lawmakers and Walker.

Democrats question whether the federal government will have enough time to consider the proposal, given that it can take several months to decide on such requests from states.

Over the past 20 years, the Medicaid rolls in Wisconsin have increased at nearly 10 times the rate of population growth, according to state figures. That increase has been driven both by state and federal expansions of the program and by the difficult economy.

Increased federal support from the 2009 economic stimulus law and later extensions helped pay those rising costs in the last state budget, but that extra funding has ended.

In the 2011-'13 state budget, Republicans put an additional $1.2 billion into Medicaid programs to help cover the added costs. But to close a $3 billion deficit for the state's overall two-year budget, the Walker administration said it needed to find $554 million in additional savings in state and federal money.

In other action Thursday, the committee voted 13-2 to approve a plan for distributing cuts in funding that goes to counties to ensure parents make their child support payments. The 22% cut in the aid for enforcement efforts statewide works out to a preliminary figure of $2.5 million less for Milwaukee County in both 2012 and 2013.

According to a memo from Milwaukee County, that could lead to 27 lost county positions and $12 million in lost child support collections.

The committee also voted 14-1 to provide $10 million in funding over the next two years for a statewide computer system to track student learning across Wisconsin's hundreds of school districts. That's $5 million less than the state budget had set aside over those two years.

08 November 2011

State’s Health Care Plan a Lose-Lose for Wisconsin Families

Contributed by Jessica Jaglowski.

Every time I read something about Wisconsin’s plan to remove thousands of people from the state’s highly successful and nationally recognized BadgerCare program, I’m baffled. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) has held multiple listening sessions, and I’ve spoken in front of Secretary Smith twice. He even held my baby. I think they are trying to find solutions. But at the same time, the solutions they are looking at still exclude working families with low incomes and no affordable health care options. It’s as if monetary concerns now far outweigh the concerns of people’s basic welfare. Health care is a primary need - you cannot function without your health. Yet so many people cannot afford to get the care they need. People should matter more than money, especially in these trying times.

Unfortunately, the cuts being proposed will seriously affect people - regular hard-working people trying to raise their families. My family comprises one of the tens of thousands of Wisconsin families at risk of losing our BadgerCare coverage.

My husband is employed full time at a nonprofit organization, and our annual household income hovers around 133% of the federal poverty level for our family of five, which includes our three children, ages 9 months to 6 years. His employer offers a health plan, but the premium costs $15,000 a year, almost half of our total income. There's no way we could afford it.

While health insurance costs have skyrocketed, reaping billions of dollars in profits for the CEOs of the major health insurance companies, salaries for working people have remained stagnant. For us, like so many other working families, health care means BadgerCare.

So what do these proposed changes mean to us? DHS has laid out two scenarios:

The first is to implement a plan - one that requires federal approval - that would ratchet up monthly premiums and co-pays based on family income, while shrinking the range of services covered. This plan means monthly premiums increasing from $10 a month to more than $100 for families like us already just barely getting by. It means paying hundreds of dollars more in out-of-pocket costs. It means worse coverage. If this plan passes, health care will no longer be affordable for families like mine. Thousands of us will be forced to choose between buying groceries and buying insurance. With three little mouths to feed, which do you think we’ll be forced to choose?

The other option - again, self-imposed by this administration - is equally bad: If the federal government doesn’t approve the DHS plan, they’ll lower the income eligibility level to 133% of the federal poverty level, the lowest allowed by federal law. 133% of the federal poverty level also happens to be just about what my household brings in. About 53,000 Wisconsinites will be shut out of coverage, most likely including members of my family. For us, it’s a lose-lose situation.

Gov. Walker claims that budget problems have left “no choice” but to kick thousands of people off of BadgerCare and Medicaid. This is not true. These dramatic changes could be avoided by rolling back about a quarter of the tax cuts the legislature has handed out to corporations and the wealthy this year. Sec. Smith keeps saying what a good value BadgerCare would still be after the proposed changes. Again, this is not true. How can anything be considered a “good deal” if you simply can’t afford to pay for it?

The listening sessions held by DHS have not gone unappreciated. However, with the announcement of either drastic cuts or extremely increased fees, it seems clear that Gov. Walker and Sec. Smith are out of touch with the financial realities of working people in Wisconsin. They ostensibly don’t understand what it means to have to decide each month which bills get paid and which can be temporarily put off, or between buying your child a decent pair of shoes and paying a third of your income for health insurance. As many Americans are startlingly beginning to realize, you can’t buy something if you don’t have the money to pay for it. The people of Wisconsin need Sec. Smith to rework this plan that potentially leaves so many people without BadgerCare and instead figure out a way to reduce health care costs without increasing the number of uninsured Wisconsinites; more uninsured people only ends up increasing health care costs for all of us. Wisconsin needs BadgerCare to remain viable and strong to protect and uphold the general welfare of the people.

Jessica Jaglowski, a mother of three, lives in Milwaukee.

Save BadgerCare

Statement from the Save BadgerCare Coalition on DHS Waiver Plan

Madison - One week ago today, late on Halloween, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) released its plan to cut over $500 million from Medicaid.  Despite minor changes to the original plan released on September 30, the DHS plan still leaves Wisconsin in a no-win situation.

This Thursday, the Joint Finance Committee is expected to review the parts of the plan that require a federal waiver. If the federal government approves the waiver request, DHS’s plan will be implemented and tens of thousands of people will lose their coverage. If the waiver is denied, the state budget requires that about 53,000 adults be kicked off of Medicaid and BadgerCare.  In either scenario, working families in Wisconsin lose.

The Wisconsin Act 10 passed earlier this year shifted authority for health care policy decisions from the Legislature to DHS, giving them near-total control over how to implement the more than half-billion dollars in spending cuts to Medicaid and BadgerCare. The DHS plan includes drastic premium increases of up to 2,000%, benefit reductions, and other restrictions that will reduce available services and shift costs to struggling families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

The Save BadgerCare Coalition rejects the notion that reducing eligibility and benefits for these critical programs is the best or only option. This unbalanced approach essentially shifts the financial burden onto already struggling individuals and families.  This cost shift will ultimately weigh on employers and workers who have health insurance, since they will end up paying more to cover health care for the greater number of uninsured resulting from their plan.

Since the private health insurance market has priced so many families out, BadgerCare and other Medicaid-funded programs in Wisconsin have been extremely successful in making health care coverage available to the vast majority of Wisconsinites. It would be a tragedy to weaken BadgerCare so dramatically before there are other affordable option available for Wisconsin families.

The Coalition calls on DHS to address the many concerns our members and the people they represent have raised about the waiver proposal and other aspects of the plan before moving forward. Wisconsin has long been a national leader in ensuring that its residents have access to quality health care, and BadgerCare—an immensely popular and effective program--has been a major part of that success story.

There are other alternatives that deserve serious, deliberate consideration. We strongly oppose undermining the health of hundreds of thousands of people in our state by fast-tracking an ill-conceived proposal in order to meet an unnecessary, self-imposed deadline.

The Save BadgerCare Coalition includes a broad and diverse alliance of advocates for public health, disability rights, women’s health, the aging community, children’s health along with working individuals and families that depend on Medicaid including BadgerCare for their health, well-being and economic security. For more information visit www.savebadgercare.org .