Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wisconsin Attack on Medical Assistance (and Democracy)

For years, advocates in Wisconsin have been working to make life better -- in some cases, make life possible -- for people with disabilities.

The process has been slow. It has taken years to create the programs and put the funding in place to allow people with disabilities to live a meaningful life in their communities, in their homes, with the healthcare support they need. Bit by bit, but with much further to go, the argument has moved forward: if you don't want to go back to the bad old days of warehousing people in very expensive institutions where lives were unbelievably difficult and generally much shorter, the public needs to step up and provide support.

This successful argument has won us the MA waiver that provides intensive therapy for children with autism.
We've won funding for health care.
For respite care.
For the home modifications that keep people safe and mobile.
For the supports that allow adults with disabilities to live in the community.

On Friday February 11, Governor Scott Walker proposed a so-called "budget repair" bill that will allow him and his appointees to restructure and slash Medical Assistance programs in Wisconsin. If this bill passes, the future slashing will take place...

Without public notice. Without public input.

The budget bill was released on Friday. A public hearing was announced Monday noon to take place on Tuesday at 10am, less than 24 hours notice.

They want the legislature to rubber-stamp this bill with a vote THIS WEEK. (And they claim they have the votes to do it.)

Very few people even know about the provisions of the bill impacting Medical Assistance.

Just so you can see I'm not making this up, here are some links to news articles...
Walker budget proposal would impact how health care works in state
Budget repair bill gives Walker free hand to revamp, cut Medicaid programs
State attorney said Walker's Medicaid plan raised "potential constitutional issues"

The bill also eliminates outright the agency that coordinates Joy's respite care services, the Wisconsin Quality Home Care Commission. (The cuts in the respite funding itself will surely come later. Without public input or notice.)

Why don't people know about this?

Two major reasons:
1) The bill is loaded with outrages. The one that has been in the headlines, that people know most about, is the proposal to strip most collective-bargaining power from public employees, so that (for starters) the governor can implement a massive cut in take-home pay via drastically-increased employee benefit contributions. [For JoyDad and myself, the loss of income amounts to half our mortgage payment every month, the equivalent of a 150% income-tax hike.] The union-busting, an outrage in and of itself, also sets the stage for immense cuts in public education...

2) The timeline is appallingly, undemocratically short. The advocacy groups have not had time even to properly analyze the Medical Assistance provisions in the bill, let alone inform the public to get to the hearing and tell their stories. The hearing, by the way, is technically still underway as I write, though they adjourned temporarily at 3am and cut off the ability for further people to sign up to speak. People are sleeping-over in the Capitol rotunda in Madison tonight. I submitted my written testimony yesterday morning, but could not stay the whole day awaiting my turn to speak.

As I said in a letter to the editor that was published yesterday, nobody is arguing that there's not a serious budget issue in our state. Some pain will have to be shared. Tax increases will have to be a part of this puzzle.

Governor Walker's approach so far, however, has been to hand over millions of dollars in corporate tax giveaways during a special-session in January this year. In other words, making the hole bigger, so that the coming cuts will be even greater.

And the mechanism that allows unfettered cuts to Medical Assistance, without so much as public notice let alone public input, is moving through practically un-noticed.

Spread the word. Call the state legislators, or e-mail them if their phone mailboxes are still jammed full like they were yesterday! Write to your local paper. Hit the streets if you're anywhere near a rally. The Capitol will be alive with protest today, what with the Madison schools closed as the teachers go out to advocate for Wisconsin public education -- JoyDad and I support them wholeheartedly.

But if the MA issue continues to fly under the radar, the protests won't get that part of the bill so much as tweaked.

Please help!

P.S. A little bit of wonky sausage-making detail for those who are interested in such things! According to the balance of powers in the State of Wisconsin, MA changes have had to go through a legislative process, either through direct legislation or through administrative rule-making. Both approaches require public hearings.

The budget proposal changes the requirements for the process. Changes would be able to be made via "emergency rule," regulations which could be created by the Walker-appointees in the Department of Health Services. Ordinarily, hearings must be held on emergency rules, and then after a specified period of time, the emergency rules must be converted into final rules, with another round of public hearing. However, according to the budget proposal, the new "emergency rules" slashing MA could be passed without hearing by the Joint Finance Committee, simply by the committee declining to take them up. The JFC is currently 8 Republicans, 4 Democrats. The committee WILL DECLINE to take up any proposed emergency rules that result in MA cuts. So the emergency rules will simply pass into effect in 14 days. No public notice, no public input. The bill also waives the requirement for the emergency rules to be revisited and converted into final rules. No chance for public input and changes there either.

P.P.S. As with any post here on Elvis Sightings, I am expressing my own personal opinions, which are not to be construed as representative of any organizations or associations to which I may belong.

P.P.P.S. TinyURL for this post is -- please tweet widely.


Char Brandl said...

Very well said. Very critical situation!

Anonymous said...

I'm really hoping a decent sized backlash against this madness can be generated. I'm encouraged by what I've seen. Pulling for you.

BabyWeightMyFatAss said...

I'm sorry you are going through this crap. I'm living south of you and our state sucks too.

JoyMama said...

All three -- thanks so much. Those who are reading but not commenting: there are a lot of you! In a single day, this post has jumped into the top 10 all-time most-viewed pages across this blog's 2.5 year history. I hope it is helpful!

Lynn said...

I've heard a little bit about this. Such bullshit. I hope that the Medicaid stuff doesn't get brushed under the rug. We've had similar threats here, but they are finally just raising taxes. Not that it still won't be threatened again next time around. They really count on the disabled to not be able to get out there and protest.

GinaMaria said...

Too bad we can't see the national traffic on here. It isn't hooked up but that is minor in comparison.

HOLY WI COWS!!! This is almost unheard of except it is reality!! Looks like we've got a TON of work ahead. Better buckle down and spread the word.

Hey maybe add an FB Like button too? I'm always thinking of how to spread the word.

Unknown said...

Well, as a mother of an autistic child who is on the waiver program I can attest that she would not be anywhere near where she is without this therapy. Therapy that we never could afford nor does it fall under my husbands insurance.

So, if all this is taken away, does Mr. Walker realize that now we can all get our children declared disabled and get them on social security? Because in my daughter's case, that's what is next!

I am so outraged. The first people he will go after is the disabled and the elderly??? Really?? BUT! his special interest groups are protected?

I didn't know that we could have a dictator of WI and not a Govenor with a true democracy. Please keep us updated. Thank you for taking the time to inform us and I WILL be spreading this word too!

JoyMama said...

Lynn -- one of these years, we'll get around to taxing them what can take it. (Did you know that over 2/3 of Wisconsin corporations pay ZERO income taxes?)

JoyMama said...

Gina -- up until these last two posts, I never had anything on which it was really interesting to know about national traffic... I can tell you that this post has been viewed 380 times. Small potatoes for some blogs, but a big deal for this issue! For more details, go to the blog home page and scroll all the way down to the little-bitty "sitemeter" image at the lower left. (Do you suppose the hit last hour from Wasilla, Alaska was from Sarah Palin?)

JoyMama said...

Sarita -- I'm hoping all the best for you and your daughter! Thanks so much for spreading the word.