APPLETON — A protest was held Wednesday in the Fox Valley concerning changes to a state-run health care program for low-income people.
Federal officials recently approved Governor Scott Walker's plan to reduce spending for BadgerCare Plus as part of overall Medicaid reductions.
The state says the changes will force some low income families to make monthly payments for the insurance.
The changes do not affect pregnant women, people with a disability or children.
However, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau says the changes could cost an estimated 17,000 people their health insurance.
About a dozen people gathered outside Appleton's City Hall Wednesday to voice concerns over changes to BadgerCare.
"The 17,000 people to lose their health care coverage in an economy like this is devastating for already very hard pressed working families," said Robert Kraig with Citizen Action of Wisconsin.
Many at the rally fear losing their coverage under new cost-cutting measures that will take effect July 1st.
"And it's a basic human right. We're not talking about whether it's a need or a want it is a basic human right to have health care," said Amy Spaulding of Oshkosh.
Under the changes, monthly or increased premiums will be required.
As an example, a family of three making about $25,000 a year would pay at least $63 a month for coverage.
Employees who have access to health insurance through their employer must utilize it.
Plus some eligibility standards will change.
State health officials say Medicaid costs have grown dramatically.
The state and federal governments allocated $7 billion toward Medicaid programs in Wisconsin.
That includes a $1.2 billion increase in the current state budget.
However, state officials say they still need to find savings to keep costs from going over budget.
"We are getting fewer dollars from the federal government, but state Medicaid spending continues to go up not down," said Wisconsin's Department of Health Services Secretary Dennis Smith.
Governor Walker's office released a statement stating Walker "made the biggest investment in medical assistance related programs in Wisconsin's history." It went on to say, "Governor Walker's record investment in medical assistance programs coupled with his honest budgeting will ultimately make these programs fiscally sustainable and able to provide services for those truly in need now, and into the future."
Democratic lawmakers are also protesting the changes to BadgerCare.
They have introduced an alternative plan called the BadgerCare Protection Act, and are calling on the governor to immediately schedule a special legislative session.
"We are asking for a special session to go in and take a vote. We've identified a way to pay for it, and that should be corporate tax breaks that we handed out earlier last year," said State Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton).
"It would make us, and the rest of Wisconsin who are on BadgerCare, it would protect us, it would mean we wouldn't lose our health care," Spaulding said.
People who may be affected by the policy changes in July will receive a notice next week.
The Department of Health Services estimates state support for the program will drop $28 million a year.
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