Homecare Employers and the Healthcare Law

By: Kevin Kane,
Organizer, Citizen Action of Wisconsin

In a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Article this week: Law puts home care providers in a funding pinch, the unfortunate situation of politics and healthcare come fully to roost and the contradictions are becoming much more public.

The article features Home Care workers from Independence First in Milwaukee, personal care workers who help the disabled and the elderly. As reported elsewhere in Yahoo News:

"The workforce is 88 percent female and 53 percent people of color. And 49 percent of these employees work less than full-time, causing them to rely on public assistance...The average salary for a home health worker is just under $21,000 a year -- among the lowest of the service industries....[and they] don’t always make minimum wage or overtime pay because of a loophole in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act."

And of course the MJS points out that homecare employers can't just raise their rates, as reimbursements are decided by Medicaid (the joint state-federal program).

"The rate paid by the state has been increased by 24 cents an hour, or about 1.5%, in the past 10 years. In that time, the cost of living has increased about 27%."

That's what makes the decision by Governor Walker on Medicaid that much more damaging. This year Walker, and the legislature, decided to push off accepting $1.3 billion over 10 years in federal Medicaid funding for BadgerCare (a decision that can be overturned at any time) that would have ensured more people have had access to health coverage. Why this matters.

Homecare workers, such as many who are employed by Independence First and others, could have had access to affordable care through BadgerCare instead of requiring Independence First to cover them. Note not all, but many, especially if they have families.

But instead, by rejecting these federal funds the state will continue to claim that Medicaid costs are skyrocketing in the budget (Medicaid & Medicare actually do a better job of cost containment than private insurance) and will continue to reject calls for Medicaid reimbursements no matter who it comes from.

Lastly, by failing to ensure more people through BadgerCare, we are in effect continuing to ignore their pleas and relegating them to the emergency room for conditions that could have been prevented or treated. Hospitals who, in turn, push the costs on to us and especially employer coverage. This legacy has made healthcare so vastly expensive even for larger employers like Independence First, through no fault of their own.

The people who work in these fields know how bad the current healthcare world is

'Schulz of Independence First said the same. "The staff is absolutely in favor of the Affordable Care Act," he said. "We think people should be able to get affordable coverage.'

And we agree. While we are not enthusiastic about the Obama Administration's move on the employer responsibility rules it seems like these are the employers (the ones whose business model is based on the state's reimbursements) who will rightfully benefit. By setting himself up as the anti-healthcare governor, Walker's impact on Medicaid, BadgerCare and private health insurance will have ripple effects across the health sector and more and more will leave Wisconsin behind versus other surrounding states. To the detriment of the sick or aging, let alone anyone who may one day become either of those.

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