Issue Brief Release: Rx Reform in Congress Must Include Rx Price Negotiations to Make Medicines Affordable for More Veterans and Their Families

For Immediate Release: July 2, 2021
Contacts:
Claire Zautke, Healthcare for All Director, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, 414-940-3375, [email protected]
Alex Brower, Executive Director, Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans, 414-949-8756, [email protected]

 

Issue Brief Release: Rx Reform in Congress Must Include Rx Price Negotiations to Make Medicines Affordable for More Veterans and Their Families

Milwaukee, Wisconsin: The Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans and Citizen Action of Wisconsin are calling on Congress this Independence Day to lower drug prices through negotiations that will make prescription medicines more affordable and accessible for everyone, including millions of veterans struggling with service related health conditions. Veterans often have complex health care needs that require treatment with prescription medicines, but the high price of prescription drugs limits access for veterans and their families including for veterans struggling with PTSD ((Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), an all too common consequence of military service. 

There are currently approximately 19 million U.S. veterans, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, including over 363,000 in Wisconsin. Gulf War-era veterans make up the largest share of the national total, surpassing Vietnam-era veterans based on the VA’s 2018 population model estimates. A third of veterans in a recent study say they had trouble paying their bills in their first few years after leaving the military. Among veterans who report PTSD, six-in-ten (61%) say they had trouble paying their bills and four-in-ten (42%) say they had trouble getting medical care for themselves or their families.

Veterans Commonly Have Service-Related Health Conditions

Veterans often have complex health care needs and conditions related to their military service including higher rates of traumatic brain injury, mental illnesses like depression and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Research shows that one in five U.S. veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan experience depression or PTSD.  Climbing suicide rates among younger veterans attest to the real and lasting impact of military service on mental health and the need for accessible treatment.

Veterans also face occupational hazards like exposure to hazardous chemicals and environmental conditions that impact their health. Many face service-connected hearing loss. A 2015 report showed that 16% to 26% of male veterans and 7% to 13% of female veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars were diagnosed with hearing problems. Veterans are also more likely to experience musculoskeletal injuries because of the physical nature of the work that includes marching, running and carrying heavy equipment. Veterans have twice the incidence of osteoarthritis as their civilian counterparts, for instance, because of physical demands, traumatic injuries, and repetitive physical activities. There is a documented link between chronic pain from physical impacts of occupation or injury and mental health conditions like PTSD and depression.

Veterans Get Health Coverage From a Variety of Sources and Face Gaps in Care

Veterans receive health coverage from a variety of sources including the  Veterans Health Administration, Tricare, Medicaid, Medicare and through private insurance.  About 6% of veterans still remain uninsured despite broad gains for veterans under the Affordable Care Act between 2013 and 2015. Coverage gains for veterans were more pronounced in states that expanded Medicaid as part of ACA implementation. The two states with the highest number of uninsured veterans, Texas and Florida, have not implemented Medicaid expansion. 

The (VHA) is  the largest integrated health care system in the United States, providing care at 1,293 health care facilities, including 171 VA Medical Centers and 1,112 outpatient locations. Over 60% veterans are eligible for healthcare through the VHA but fewer than half enroll. One reason is that many veterans have other sources of coverage including private insurance. Veterans who depend on private insurance or Medicare Part D coverage are subject to the same problems with prescription drug affordability as the rest of us even though their health care needs may be greater than those of the general population. About 40% of people with private insurance still can’t afford prescriptions, including millions of veterans who need treatment for common service related health issues described above.

The price of prescription medicines is increasing faster than any other medical good or service, largely because drug corporations have monopoly power to set and keep prices high. Drug corporporations charge patients in the United States three times as much as people in other countries for the same drugs. Already in 2021, drug corporations have raised prices on over 830 drugs by an average of 4.5%. More price increases are expected in July since drug corporations typically increase prices twice a year. Congressional action to lower drug prices would benefit taxpayers, businesses, families and veterans, who largely get their health care from the same sources as the rest of us. 

Congress Must Lower Drug Prices to Make Medicines More Affordable and Improve Health

Nearly 9 out of 10 voters named lowering prescription drug prices as a top health care issue leading into the 2020 election. Current federal programs like the VHA and Medicaid provide guidance on how Congress can lower prescription drug prices for everyone and increase accessibility to affordable medicines, particularly by adopting price negotiations that exist in these programs but are prohibited in Medicare Part D.  

  • A comparison by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) of prices for brand-name drugs in government programs and agencies including Veterans, Department of Defense, Medicaid, and Medicare Part D found that Medicare Part D’s prices were significantly higher than the other programs where direct purchasing and negotiations were used. 
  • A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) paid, on average, 54 percent less per unit for a sample of 399 brand-name and generic prescription drugs in 2017 as did Medicare Part D, even after accounting for applicable rebates and price concessions in the Part D program

Experts affirm that being able to afford prescriptions is a key reason why people skip doses or forgo medicine rather than comply with doctors’ orders to take it. Research shows for instance, that one in four diabetics skip insulin doses because they can’t afford the medicine.  There are dangerous health risks to skipping medicines and negative impacts on health outcomes that can even include death as we’ve seen in several cases of insulin rationing. But for people who can’t afford medicines, there is no choice until Congress takes action to ensure increased affordability and access. 

A 2020 study in Health Affairs shows that veterans who get their health care through the VHA, including low-cost prescription medicines, are more likely to take their medicines as directed because of the improved access. Researchers concluded that although veterans with VHA health coverage were older and in worse health and had lower incomes than those with other kinds of  coverage, VHA patients had lower rates of cost-related medication nonadherence: 6.1 percent versus 10.9 percent for non-VHA patients.

Here in Wisconsin, veteran Roger Punswick receives prescription drugs through the VHA. As a Vietnam veteran, he was exposed to agent orange, and currently receives a lot of medications with no co-pay because the prescriptions are service related.  He is currently on 7 medications, including Metforman, Metolpral, Hydrolozen, Certroline, and Ferosomide, among others. Roger says “Everyone should be able to afford the prescription drugs they need – even if they did not serve.” 

Congress Should Implement  Negotiations in Medicare and Extend Discounted Prices to Everyone 

H.R. 3, the Lower Drug Costs Now Act and the newly-released Senate Finance Committee principles for prescription drug reform both include proposals for Medicare negotiations that would lower prices and then extend those discounts beyond Part D enrollees so that people with private insurance or no insurance can also benefit from more affordable medicines. Congresswoman Gwen Moore voted in support of HR 3 in the 116th Congress and is a co-sponsor of the bill in the current Congress.

Negotiating drug prices in Medicare is a popular and bipartisan proposal that would save patients and taxpayers money and increase access to medicines that people need, including many veterans. 

Senator Tammy Baldwin has openly supported price negotiations, and Wisconsinites are still waiting on Senator Ron Johnson to sign on to negotiations. 

A new study by West Health shows that Under H.R. 3, employers could save $195 billion on health care spending, while employees would save $61 billion in lower premiums and out-of-pocket costs). Costs in the ACA market could fall by $58 billion, including $34 billion in premiums and patient cost-sharing. Overall, the CBO predicts that the bill would save taxpayers nearly half a trillion dollars that could be invested to improve benefits and services in other areas of Medicare.

Although the pharmaceutical industry is objecting to these proposals with false claims about dangers to innovation, a June survey shows that 8 in 10 Americans still prefer major government action to lower prices notwithstanding the industry’s fear mongering over innovation.

Americans Have Waiting Long Enough for Fair and Affordable Drug Prices–It’s Time for Action

After decades of lip service from both parties, Americans can’t wait anymore for Congressional action to lower drug prices and ensure that medicines are affordable for everyone who needs them. There are ample models thanks to the VHA, Department of Defense, and Medicaid to demonstrate that negotiating prices directly with drug corporations and putting in place rules to ensure consumer protections against drug corporations’ monopoly pricing of medicines works. 

The prescription drug industry has the highest profit margins of any sector in the nation. Continuing to put those profits ahead of patients’ health, particularly the veterans who have sacrificed and contributed in countless ways to protect the security and well-being of the nation, is fundamentally wrong.

“No matter where we live, what we look like, or how much money we make, high prescription drug prices affect us all,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “For too long, Big Pharma executives have lined their own pockets at the expense of Wisconsinites’ health – aided by the lack of transparency in drug pricing. Citizen Action of Wisconsin and our members call on Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation to support the Lower Drug Costs Now Act.”  

“Wisconsinites – and all Americans – need to be able to afford medically necessary medications” said Gary Mitchell, President of the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans, “it’s time for Congress to at least pass HR. 3.” 

It’s time for Congress to honor the peace, freedom and prosperity that veterans have fought for across generations by taking action to ensure everyone in America has access to affordable healthcare and medicines they need to take care of themselves and their families. 

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Issue Brief: Congress Should Prioritize Equitable Health Care and Economic Security for Everyone in Building Back Better

For Immediate Release: June 18, 2021
Contact: Robert Kraig (414) 322-5324, [email protected]

 

New Issue Brief from Citizen Action of WI and Health Care for America Now Details that Congress Must Close the Medicaid Coverage Gap To Address Health Equity

Two-thirds of people who would gain coverage in non-expansion states are people of color

 

Milwaukee, Wisconsin:  Citizen Action of Wisconsin and Health Care for America Now (HCAN) released a new issue brief today highlighting racial equity in health care policies as the nation prepares to commemorate Juneteenth, which marks the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States.

The report describes how Congress and the Biden Administration can reduce racial disparities that result in worse health outcomes and diminished economic security for Black and Brown people by prioritizing policies that make healthcare affordable and expanding coverage. 

Specifically, the report details how closing the Medicaid coverage gap in twelve states that have not yet expanded Medicaid would increase health equity. Nationally, about 4 million low-income people could gain coverage under Medicaid if these states expand Medicaid, including 2.2 million adults with incomes below the poverty line. Of this number, 28% are Black and another 28% are Latino. Medicaid expansion in these states would finally finish the job of implementing the Affordable Care Act which now covers 31 million people, the largest number in its history.

The ACA brought the number of uninsured people to historical lows and narrowed health disparities.  Latino, Black, and Native Americans had higher percentage point increases in coverage than whites since these groups were all more likely to be uninsured before the ACA was implemented. 

In Wisconsin, 202,546 residents have gained health coverage through the Affordable Care Act.  Since 2013, the rate of uninsured dropped from 13.4% in 2013 to 12.3% in 2019.

Medicaid expansion has a proven track record of reducing health disparities. Yet, three fourths of states that have not expanded Medicaid despite increased incentives under the American Rescue Plan are in the South, including Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. Three of these states (Texas, Georgia, Florida) also have the largest number of non-Hispanic Black people in the country. Texas and Florida are also among the top five states with the largest populations of Hispanic Blacks. 

“Health equity is not a blue state or a red state issue,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin “No matter where someone lives or what they look like, no one should be denied access to quality healthcare based on political grudges. Many other states, Democratic and Repbublican led, have put the interests and needs of their constituents ahead of their own partisanship. Politicians in the remaining states – like Wisconsin – should not be allowed to hold low income people, Black people and Brown people hostage to their own agenda. Biden and Congress must intervene and there’s never been a better time.”

Georgia Senators Warnock and Ossoff wrote a recent letter urging Congress and the Biden Administration to take action to create a federal solution for people denied Medicaid  coverage because of political gridlock that would allow people in non-expansion states to access affordable healthcare. Doing so would build on other improvements that emerged in ARPA that  expanded premium tax credits and gave millions more people access to quality, affordable healthcare with lower premiums. 

More than a third of enrollees have a plan that costs $10 or less per month including  4 in 10 new enrollees. ARPA increased funding to address maternal health by extending health coverage for new mothers, gave states the option to expand home based and community services and provided subsidized COBRA coverage for laid off and unemployed workers. The rescue plan also increased funding for Medicaid expansion as an incentive to states to finally expand coverage to uninsured but none of the dozen states took up the funding.

Members of the Black, Hispanic and Asian Congressional Caucuses are now working together to advance closing the coverage gap as a key strategy to address racial health disparities, starting with a Tri Caucus sign on letter. Wisconsin Representative Gwen Moore signed on to the letter. 

 

Citizen Action of Wisconsin is a member-owned coalition of individuals and organizations committed to achieving social, racial, economic, health, and environmental justice through grassroots organizing and advocacy. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @CitizenActionWI.

Health Care for America Now (HCAN) is a grassroots coalition of state and national groups that led the fight to pass the landmark Affordable Care Act (ACA). Healthcare Over Wealthcare is a campaign of Health Care for America Now that advocates for prioritizing investments in equitable, affordable healthcare for everyone over tax breaks for the rich and corporations.  Follow us on Twitter @HCAN.

 

Link to Issue Brief

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Press Statement on the Supreme Court Dismissing the ACA Lawsuit

For Immediate Release: June 17, 2021
Contacts:
Robert Kraig (414) 322-5324, [email protected]
Claire Zautke, (414) 940-3375, [email protected]

 

 

US Supreme Court Ruling on the ACA is Welcome News
Work Remains to Establish Health Care as a Human Right


Following the US Supreme Court ruling that leaves in place the Affordable Care Act, Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, issued this statement
:

“The Supreme Court decision rejecting the latest attempt to overturn the Affordable Care Act gives a welcome reprieve to millions of Wisconsinites with preexisting conditions, or without good coverage at work, from losing their health care. While the popular Affordable Care Act provides basic health care protections, there is still much to be done to guarantee that every American has quality affordable health care, no matter what. Citizen Action of Wisconsin will continue to fight until health care is established as a human right, and everyone in Wisconsin receives the care they need, when they need it, without fear or financial hardship.” 

 

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Statement on BadgerCare Expansion Special Session

For Immediate Release: May 19, 2021
Contact: Robert Kraig, (414) 322-5324, [email protected]

Citizen Action statement on Gov. Tony Evers calling a Special Legislative Session to expand BadgerCare

Statewide: Citizen Action of Wisconsin, a statewide grassroots organizing group dedicated to guaranteeing affordable healthcare to everyone in Wisconsin, applauds Governor Tony Evers’ declaration of a Special Legislative Session to enact BadgerCare Expansion.

Citizen Action of Wisconsin Executive Director Robert Kraig made the following statement: “The Joint Finance Committee last week attempted to take BadgerCare Expansion, the top state budget issue, out of budget deliberations. Public support for accepting billions of federal dollars to expand health care access for working Wisconsinites struggling to make ends meet is so overwhelming, and the policy case so strong, that any further opportunity to debate the merits of the issue increases the likelihood of passage. It is long overdue for the State of Wisconsin to stop wasting hundreds of millions of public dollars to cover fewer people.” 

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New Issue Brief Details Need for Tax Reform of Big Pharma

For Immediate Release: May 17, 2021
Contacts Robert Kraig (414) 322-5324, [email protected]

 

New Issue Brief Details Need for Tax Reform of Big Pharma
Congress Must Put Healthcare Over Wealthcare


Milwaukee, WI: As Congress prepares to debate President Biden’s proposals to increase taxes on the wealthy and corporations as part of his “Build Back Better” economic stimulus and recovery package, state and national advocates released a new issue brief this Tax Day making the case for increasing taxes on drug corporations to fund investments in health care affordability.

Citizen Action of Wisconsin released the short report titled, “Congress Must Make the Wealthy and Corporations Pay Their Fair Share of Taxes to Support Healthcare and Economic Recovery” in collaboration with the national Healthcare Over Wealthcare project that supports tax fairness reforms to generate more revenue for healthcare and safety net expansions. The brief describes how the wealthy and corporations continued to prosper from the Trump era Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TJCA) and long-standing tax loopholes while average-income people lost jobs, income, and healthcare during the pandemic.

In Wisconsin, for instance, where over 600,000 people have been infected with COVID and many are still struggling to recover health and economic stability: 

  • 256,000 in state are struggling to afford enough food; 
  • 155,000 are struggling to pay pay rent;
  • The unemployment rate remains high at 3.8% and there are 148,000 fewer jobs today than when the pandemic started.

Conditions could deteriorate further if the Supreme Court overturns the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicaid expansion, a source of healthcare for almost 400,000 Wisconsinites which also provides consumer protections to 883,000 people with pre-existing conditions in the state. The Supreme Court is due to rule on the constitutionality of the law again this summer.

As millions of Americans lost jobs and healthcare in 2020, the wealthiest households and prescription drug corporations continued to get tax breaks throughout the pandemic. The wealthiest 1% of households in Wisconsin received a tax break of $39,610 last year, while the poorest households, those making under $24,000 received about $30.

Prescription drug corporations, which raised their prices on hundreds of drugs in both 2020 and 2021, and have already received billions in tax breaks under the Trump tax law continue to receive tax breaks even as they raise prices so high that even a third of people with insurance can’t afford medicines.

Some of the largest of these corporations, including Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer, also received billions in taxpayer funds to develop, manufacture and distribute the new COVID 19 vaccine. Pfizer announced recently that it expects to generate $26 billion in revenue in 2021 from the vaccine.  The price of prescription drugs is rising faster than any other good or service even as demand for medicines is increasing because of COVID.

President Biden’s “Made in America Tax Plan,” would raise about $3.6 trillion in revenue from a combination of corporate tax increases, raising taxes on households making over $400,000, closing loopholes and increasing enforcement of tax laws, particularly on higher income payers. Drug corporations would face increased domestic rates and increased offshore rates on profits stashed in tax havens. The revenue would support popular investments like increased premium tax credits for people buying ACA coverage, childcare and family leave expansions, jobs and infrastructure repairs.

“No one should have to choose between paying for medicine and paying for other basic needs like food, rent or transportation. COVID has sharpened the contrast between average Americans struggling to afford healthcare and medicine. The Big Pharma corporations who keep jacking up prices and then getting rewarded by tax breaks,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “President Biden’s proposals to increase corporate tax rates on companies like these drug corporations are long overdue. Right now, patients are paying three times for prescription medicines: once for research and development, once at the pharmacy and then once more for the tax breaks that these corporations get annually. It’s time to flip the script and make them pay their fair share.”

 

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Citizen Action of Wisconsin is a member-owned coalition of individuals and organizations committed to achieving social, racial, economic, health, and environmental justice through grassroots organizing and advocacy. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @CitizenActionWI.

Health Care for America Now (HCAN) is a grassroots coalition of state and national groups that led the fight to pass the landmark Affordable Care Act (ACA). Healthcare Over Wealthcare is a campaign of Health Care for America Now that advocates for prioritizing investments in equitable, affordable healthcare for everyone over tax breaks for the rich and corporations.  Follow us on Twitter @HCAN.

Press Statement re: Biden’s American Family Plan

For Immediate Release: April 28, 2021
Contacts: Robert Kraig (414) 322-5324, [email protected]

 

Statement: Biden’s American Family Plan makes historic investments in paid leave, child care, and tax fairness, but misses an opportunity on prescription drug affordability

Following President Biden’s speech to a joint session of Congress outlining his new American Families Plan, Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin issued this statement:

“President Biden outlined a plan that includes many of the key priorities and policies that will really help Wisconsinites take the next step toward meaningful health and economic recovery from COVID. The American Families Plan also makes historic investments in child care, paid leave, education, and tax fairness that will increase economic security and opportunities for all in Wisconsin. The

The creation of a new national paid family and medical leave program is particularly exciting. For too long, Americans have had to choose between caring for their family’s well being – like having time to recover from childbirth and bond with a new infant – and needing income to pay bills. The new paid leave program will guarantee twelve weeks of paid parental, family, and personal illness/safe leave (for people escaping domestic violence or recovering from assault) by year 10, and ensure workers get three days of bereavement leave every year within the first year of the program. The program will provide workers up to $4,000 a month, with a minimum of two-thirds of average weekly wages replaced, rising to 80 percent for the lowest wage workers.

It is disappointing, however, that the American Families Plan omits any significant reforms or investments related to prescription drug affordability. It is encouraging to hear the President reaffirm his commitment to lowering drug prices – a key component of access and affordability particularly for seniors, people with disabilities and people with chronic diseases like diabetes, asthma, and high blood pressure. However, the time is now to make the long-overdue reforms that will make prescription medicines affordable to everyone who needs them.

Congress took an important step forward last week by introducing the Lower Drug Costs Now Act which would allow Medicare to directly negotiate prices on behalf of beneficiaries for the first time, saving taxpayers more than $450 billion. These savings could fund investments in the economy, make healthcare more affordable, and finally end Pharma’s monopoly power to price-gouge.  Citizen Action of Wisconsin urges President Biden and Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation to make affordable medicines a top priority by including this measure in the American Families Plan.”

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ICYMI: Wisconsin’s State and federal officials to GOP Legislature: Expand Badgercare Now

ICYMI: Wisconsin’s State and federal officials to GOP Legislature: Expand Badgercare Now

GOP’s refusal to expand BadgerCare would cost the state $1.6 billion and leave 90,000 without quality coverage 

 

MILWAUKEE, WI — Yesterday, Congresswoman Gwen Moore, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, and State Representative Sara Rodriguez joined Milwaukee area nurse Tracy Sperko for a virtual roundtable focused on health care. Their message to Republican members of the Wisconsin legislature was clear: expand Badgercare now.

For years, Republican obstruction has denied the State of Wisconsin the full advantages of accepting the federal expansion of Medicaid available under the Affordable Care Act. Wisconsin is one of just 14 states that has yet to accept the expansion, which has cost the states hundreds of millions of dollars. 

The recently enacted American Rescue Plan provides even more robust financial incentives for the holdout states – like Wisconsin – which have  not implemented the Medicaid expansion made available under the Affordable Care Act. In addition to covering 90 percent of the costs for the expansion population, the federal government will chip in an extra 5 percent for the traditional Medicaid population for two years. This translates to billions in additional dollars for the states. 

Tracy Sperko, a Milwaukee area school nurse who works with adolescents described the experiences of several of her students who struggle with prescription drug and health care affordability. “I’ve been on the phone with parents, with their voice breaking. I know they’re scared,” she said. “I wonder what we are doing? Why don’t we care? We say in Wisconsin, we say in our country that we care about our children. They are our future. […] But when they’re sick, they can’t perform, they can’t learn, they can’t attend school. I want to see them have a full life, but they’re being held back.”

State Representative Sara Rodriguez (D-Brookfield) described the financial, moral, and public health imperative for expanding BadgerCare. “It’s time for the Legislature to recognize the successes that other states have had in expanding their eligibility criteria […] and bring those federal dollars home to Wisconsin,” said Rep. Rodriguez. “It’s not only the right thing to do for our budget, but it’s the right thing to do to ensure that people have access to basic health care services. We should not be spending more in Wisconsin to cover less people.”

Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee) underscored the fiscal implications for the state of Wisconsin if Republicans once again refuse to expand Badgercare, citing the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s analysis that continued obstruction would cost the state more than $1.6 billion over just the next two years. “Here’s your opportunity to run government like a business,” she noted, “Instead, you’re leaving billions of dollars on the table.”

Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes reminded attendees of the harsh realities impacting families for years that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, “an untreated medical condition can easily become a life or death situation, or (lead to) a situation between economic security or bankruptcy,” said Barnes.

You can view a recording of the full press conference at this link. Passcode: [email protected]

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Report: Wisconsin’s Billionaires Got $11.1B Richer During the Pandemic

   

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 9, 2021
Contact: Robert Kraig, [email protected], (414) 322-5324

Wisconsin Billionaires Got $11.1 Billion Richer Over First 10 Months of Pandemic, Their Collective Wealth Jumping By 28%

Gains of 8 Richest Residents Could Cover $2 Billion State Deficit Predicted by Outside Analysts 5 Times Over & Still Leave Billionaires Richer Than They Were Before COVID

 

Milwaukee, WI —The collective wealth of Wisconsin’s 8 billionaires jumped by $11.1 billion, or 28%, between mid-March of last year and January 29, 2021, according to a new report by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), Health Care for America Now (HCAN), Citizen Action of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans. The $11.1 billion in pandemic profits of the state’s richest residents could cover five times over a two-year state budget deficit of up to $2 billion projected by an independent monitoring group, and still leave the billionaires wealthier than  they were when the pandemic hit 10 months ago.

Between March 18, 2020 —the rough start date of the pandemic shutdown, when most federal and state economic restrictions were put in place—and January 29, 2021, the total net worth of Wisconsin billionaires rose from $39.4 billion to $50.5 billion, based on this analysis of Forbes data, and also shown in the table below.[1]

The private gain of Wisconsin billionaires contrasts sharply with the health and economic struggles that average Wisconsinites are facing because of the pandemic. Over those same tough 10 months, over half a millionWisconsinites fell ill with the coronavirus and over 6,000 died from it. And 1,170,172 workers lost jobs in the accompanying recession.

The Wisconsin Policy Forum projects that state spending will exceed revenue by nearly $400 million over the next two years, without taking into effect growing needs for existing services. When anticipated increases in funding for Medicaid, education and other services are considered, the group estimates the budget gap could exceed $2 billion.

While federal lawmakers debate more cash payments to people and families in the next relief package, the state’s 8 billionaires have amassed enough new wealth during the pandemic, a  $11.1 billion leap, to send every one of Wisconsin’s 5,822,434 residents a relief check of roughly $1,901 each. A family of four would get $7,603.

Sources: All data is from Forbes and available here.
March 18, 2020, data is from the Forbes World’s Billionaires List: The Richest in 2020.
Jan. 29, 2021 data was taken from Forbes real-time estimates of wealth that day.

Nationwide over the same 10-month period, the total wealth of the nation’s 661 billionaires leaped by $1.2 trillion, or 40%—more than the $900 billion federal pandemic relief package enacted in Congress in December. Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson was one of just six U.S. senators to vote against the bill, complaining that its relief checks for working families were too costly.

At $4.1 trillion, the total wealth of America’s 661 billionaires is two-thirds higher than the $2.4 trillion in total wealth held by the bottom half of the population, 165 million Americans.

Sen. Johnson has also expressed reservations with President Biden’s new $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan, again citing cost. Biden’s plan would provide $350 billion in general aid to state and local governments to preserve jobs and critical public services plus $170 billion to help schools reopen and support public colleges.

As Wisconsin billionaires ride out the crisis on a rising tide of wealth, the state’s working families struggle to keep their heads above water:

  • 107,132 state residents were collecting unemployment the week ended Jan. 9 [S. Department of Labor]
  • Between March and September 2020, 1,676 state businesses closed, 928 of them permanently. [YELP]
  • Late last year, 360,000 adult state residents, or 9%, reported going hungry over the past week. The figure for households with children was 12%. [Center on Budget & Policy Priorities, CBPP, Table 1]
  • 13% of the state’s tenants—158,000—were behind in their rent at the end of 2020. [CBPP, Table 3]

Low-wage workers, people of color and women have suffered disproportionately in the combined medical and economic crises because of long-standing racial and gender disparities. Blacks and Latinos are far more likely to become infected with Covid-19 and to die from the disease. Billionaires are overwhelmingly white men.

Here’s a sampling of some of the state’s prospering billionaires, all in the construction and home improvement industry:

  • Plumbing-fixtures scion Herbert Kohler, Jr., of the company and town that bear his family’s name, enjoyed a nearly 41% leap in his fortune, which rose by $2.4 billion to $8.3 billion.
  • The wealth of Eau Claire home improvement retailer John Menard, Jr., increased by almost a quarter, jumping $2.7 billion to $14.2 billion.
  • Afton building-supply wholesaler and big GOP donor Diane Hendricks experienced a 15% bump in her net worth, up over $1 billion to nearly $8 billion.

“As Wisconsin heads into our biennial budget process, the contrast is stark between the massive wealth growth of these billionaires and the projected State budget revenue shortfalls that endanger the State’s ability to fund essential services,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “No matter where we live or what we look like, all Wisconsinites deserve to live healthy and safe lives. We must stand together and demand that our elected leaders at the state and federal levels protect and invest in us, not the wealthy few who have already provided so greatly during this horrific pandemic.”

“Wisconsin’s seniors have borne a huge, devastating burden in this pandemic,” said Alex Brower, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans. “Older adults have lost their lives, been forced into isolation and loneliness, and lived in fear. Meanwhile, our state’s billionaires have profited massively. Wisconsin’s seniors deserve to live in a society that prioritizes older adults’ lives over the wealth of an elite few, starting with Congress passing real COVID relief legislation that addresses the needs of older Americans.”

“Billionaires have been reaping bushels of pandemic profits the last 10 months while many working families are reeling, state and local services are suffering and jobs are disappearing,” said Frank Clemente, Executive Director of Americans for Tax Fairness. “Congress needs to come to the immediate rescue to get the country out of this mess. And then it should turn its attention to enacting sweeping reforms that make the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share of taxes so we can create an economy that works for all of us.”

“Republicans in the Senate keep trying to pare down the $1.9 trillion Biden pandemic relief plan that would save jobs and services in states and provide millions of people healthcare, unemployment protection, paid leave with excuses about targeting support to those who need it most,” said Margarida Jorge, Executive Director, Health Care for America Now. “But those excuses are more hollow than ever in a pandemic where billionaires are getting richer as everyone else struggles. The Republicans certainly weren’t worried about targeting the neediest when they passed their $1.9 trillion tax law back in 2017. That law gave away billions to the rich and corporations while leaving the middle class and working people behind.”

Some billionaires have seen a particularly astonishing increase in wealth:

  • Elon Musk’s wealth grew by over $156 billion, from $24.6 billion on March 18 to $181 billion on Jan. 29, a more than six-fold increase, boosted by his Tesla
  • Jeff Bezos’s wealth grew from $113 billion on March 18 to $186 billion, an increase of 67%. Adding in his ex-wife MacKenzie Scott’s wealth of $57 billion on Jan. 29, the two had a combined wealth of almost a quarter of a trillion dollars thanks to their Amazon stock.
  • Mark Zuckerberg’s wealth grew from $54.7 billion on March 18 to $97 billion, an increase of over two-thirds (77%) fueled by his Facebook

President Biden’s “build back better” tax and investment plans could address immediate needs created by the pandemic and put the nation on a trajectory toward economic growth that restores the middle class, good jobs, healthcare and equitable opportunity for everyone to prosper. Even Wall Street analysts praise the plan because of the jobs and growth it would create.

A key component is tax reform that would begin to ensure the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share. Biden’s tax plan would transform huge billionaire gains into public revenue to help heal a hurting nation by both raising taxes on the wealthy and closing tax loopholes that allow the rich to delay, diminish and even avoid paying the taxes they owe on wealth increases. President Biden and the new Congress could make structural changes to level the playing field so that the rich are taxed more like the rest of us.

A number of approaches will be debated in Congress, including  an annual wealth tax on the biggest fortunes, proposed by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Another option is the annual taxation of investment gains on stocks and other tradable assets, an idea advanced by the new Senate Finance Committee chair, Ron Wyden. Even under the current discounted tax rates for investment income, if Wyden’s plan had been in effect in 2020, Wisconsin billionaires would be paying billions of dollars in extra taxes this spring thanks to their gargantuan pandemic profits last year, helping to address the pandemic’s impact and keep the economy afloat.

[1]March 18 was also the date that Forbes picked to measure billionaire wealth for the 2020 edition of its annual billionaires report, which provided a baseline that ATF and IPS compare periodically with real-time data from the Forbes website. Politifact has favorably reviewed this methodology.

 

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Statement: Trump’s Stacked Supreme Court Could Overturn ACA Coverage and Pre-Existing Condition Protections for Millions of Wisconsinites

For Immediate Release: November 10, 2020
Contacts: Robert Kraig (414) 322-5324, [email protected]

 

Statement: Trump’s Stacked Supreme Court Could Overturn ACA Coverage and Pre-Existing Condition Protections for Millions of Wisconsinites

Citizen Action of Wisconsin Urges Justices to Put Partisan Politics Aside and Uphold the Law

Milwaukee, WI – Statement in response to the Supreme Court’s hearing of the California v. Texas lawsuit to determine the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act Citizen Action of Wisconsin released the following statement:  

“COVID cases are surging in Wisconsin to new levels, setting new records for infection and putting Wisconsinites’ lives at risk. During the biggest public health crisis of our lifetimes, we need more and better health care for all people, not less. And yet, during this global pandemic, the United States is taking up the Trump and Republican backed California v. Texas lawsuit that threatens to take health care away from millions of Americans.

Rather than protect and expand health care or lower drug prices, President Trump spent four years trying to repeal the ACA, weaken Medicaid and Medicare, and breaking his promises about lowering drug prices. In the last month before the election, his top priority was not COVID relief and recovery, but instead he focused on packing the Supreme Court with another right wing judge that opposes the ACA. 

In defiance of past precedence, the legal opinions of experts across the political spectrum who argue that this case has no merit, and the harmful impact of overturning coverage for over 20 million people as well as pre-existing condition protections for 135 million more, this court could refuse to uphold the ACA. That decision would have dire consequences for Wisconsinites. Experts estimate that 153,000 Wisconsinites could lose coverage, including 41,000 young adults on their parents’ coverage and 28,000 children. Furthermore, without the Affordable Care Act, between 883,000 and 2.4 million Wisconsinites with pre-existing conditions could be denied coverage or be discriminated against and face much higher costs.

While millions of Americans would lose coverage and protections, the wealthy few and large corporations would receive massive tax breaks. Prescription drug corporations would receive a massive tax break from the repeal amounting to $2.8 billion annually and the richest households in Wisconsin would collectively receive $420 million in tax breaks.

For the sake of our democracy and our health, the Supreme Court must uphold the ACA as the law of the land and put aside partisan politics to act as a neutral arbiter in this case. The justices must prioritize sound legal judgement and the well-being of the nation over President Trump’s anti-health care legacy.” 

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Report: Wisconsin Billionaires’ Net Worths Jump $11 Billion or 28% Since Pandemic

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Oct. 22, 2020

Contact: Robert Kraig, (414) 322-5324, [email protected]

Wisconsin Billionaires’ Net Worths Jump $11 Billion or 28% – Five Times More than State’s $2 Billion Revenue Shortfall – Since Pandemic

Meanwhile state & local government services face deep cuts as Congress prioritizes confirmation of anti-ACA Supreme Court Justice over Coronavirus relief

MILWAUKEE, WI: Wisconsin has 8 billionaires whose collective wealth has jumped by $11 billion, or 27.9%, since mid-March, roughly the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, even as the state’s economy was reeling from a huge spike in joblessness and a collapse in taxes collected, according to a new report by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), Health Care for America Now (HCAN), Citizen Action of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans.

Despite growing needs and economic hardship caused by the pandemic, President Trump and U.S. Senate Republicans have refused to pass another financial aid package to help working families and to maintain state and local public services. Instead, they have opted to focus on expediting the confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice before the election.

The $11 billion increase in wealth of the state’s billionaires over the last 7 months is five times more than the $2 billion state revenue shortfall in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. The table below shows how the state’s billionaires’ wealth has climbed during the pandemic.

Between March 18—the rough start date of the pandemic shutdown, when most federal and state economic restrictions were put in place—and Oct. 13, the total net worth of the state’s  billionaires rose from $39.4 billion to $50.4 billion, based on this analysis of Forbes data. Forbes’ annual billionaires report was published March 18, 2020, and the real-time data was collected Oct. 13 from the Forbes website.

Needless to say, ordinary workers did not fare as well. From mid-March to mid-September, the collective work income of rank-and-file private-sector employees—all hours worked times the hourly wages of the entire bottom 82% of the workforce—declined by 3.5%, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics national data.

While here in Wisconsin and nationally:

  • in Wisconsin 182,651 fell ill with the virus, including 1,681 who died from it (as of 10/21/2020) [Wisconsin Department of Health Services]
  • In Wisconsin, 931,641 lost their jobs between March 21 and Sept. 26, 2020 [U.S. Department of Labor]
  • In Wisconsin, 119,104 were collecting unemployment on Sept. 26, 2020 [U.S. Department of Labor]
  • In Wisconsin, 928 businesses closed [MSN Money]
  • Nationally, 22 million adults reported not having enough food in the past week between September 2-28, including 14 million with children in the household. Eight percent of adults and 11% of adults living with children reported not having enough to eat. [Center on Budget & Policy Priorities, CBPP]
  • Nationally, 1 in 6 renters reported being behind on September rent payments, including 12% of Wisconsin renters. [CBPP]

Sources: All data is from Forbes and available here.
March 18, 2020, data is from the Forbes World’s Billionaires List: The Richest in 2020.
Oct. 13, 2020 data was taken from Forbes real-time estimates of wealth that day.

Low-wage workers, people of color and women have suffered disproportionately in the combined medical and economic crises because of long-standing racial and gender disparities. Blacks and Latinos are far more likely to become infected with Covid-19 and to die from the disease. Billionaires are overwhelmingly white men.

The total net worth of the nation’s 644 billionaires has risen by $931 billion, or nearly 32%, since March 18—from $2.95 trillion to $3.88 trillion (see spreadsheet of all billionaires).

“The wealth of the country’s nearly 650 billionaires keeps rising higher and higher, as the livelihoods of tens of millions of Americans keeps sinking lower from the failure of Washington to provide a new COVID-19 rescue package,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness. “If Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had put his energy into rushing through Congress a major coronavirus financial aid package months ago, like he’s rushing through this Supreme Court nomination, millions of Americans would have been spared financial hardship and countless small businesses would still be standing.”

“The rich are getting richer while the rest of the nation is struggling to overcome the health and economic impacts of the worst public health crisis we’ve seen in decades,” said Margarida Jorge, Executive Director of Health Care for America Now. “Yet rather than pass COVID relief and other legislation that would increase income, health care access and other basic supports for struggling families and small businesses, President Trump and Republicans in Congress are prioritizing their partisan grudge against the Affordable Care Act. A vote to pack the court with Trump’s anti-ACA Supreme Court nominee before the election equals a vote to take healthcare and pre-existing conditions protections away from millions after it.”

“Federal lawmakers should be prioritizing the COVID relief policies that increase access and affordability of health care, especially now as the disease surges in our state putting more Wisconsin families at risk,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “Yet time and time again, we’ve seen President Trump and the Republicans in the Senate put their politics ahead our health care whether it comes to COVID relief, lowering drug prices, or protecting coverage and pre-existing conditions protections for millions who depend on the Affordable Care Act.”

Some billionaires have seen a particularly astonishing increase in wealth:

  • Jeff Bezos’s wealth grew from $113 billion on March 18 to $203 billion on Oct. 13, an increase of 80%.
  • Mark Zuckerberg’s wealth grew from $54.7 billion on March 18 to $101 billion on Oct. 13, an increase of  85%.
  • Elon Musk’s wealth grew from $24.6 billion on March 18 to $92.8 billion on Oct. 13, an increase of 277%.

The total wealth of all U.S. billionaires—$3.88 trillion today—is two-and-a-half times the $1.5 trillion in total wealth held by the bottom half of the population, or 165 million Americans.

The $931 billion wealth gain by billionaires since mid-March:

Without a federal fiscal relief package, workers will face even greater loss of jobs and services than has already occurred. The Economic Policy Institute predicts that in Wisconsin 99,200 public-sector jobs employing teachers, public safety workers and health care workers, will be lost by the end of 2021 without more federal aid.

Even as the number of people without jobs and healthcare continues to rise, President Trump and Majority Leader McConnell continue to reject meaningful relief, opting instead to prioritize rushing the confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s recent death.

The rushed confirmation of Barrett, a judge who is on the record opposing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), increases the likelihood that millions will lose healthcare and consumer protections for pre-existing conditions after the November elections, when the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear California v. Texas, the Trump-backed lawsuit to overturn the ACA.

Supreme Court repeal of the ACA could take health coverage away from 224,000 people in Wisconsin, according to the Center for American Progress. It could also eliminate protections for 883,000 with pre-existing conditions like diabetes, heart disease, or alcohol or drug addiction, who could be denied coverage without the law, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. That’s 25% of the state’s non-elderly population. At the same time that millions would lose coverage and protections, repealing the ACA would heap more wealth onto rich households and prescription drug corporations that already comprise the most profitable industry in the nation.

Repealing the ACA would give wealthy households making at least $3 million a year a $198,000 annual tax break, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Households making $1 million a year would get a $42,000 tax break. Prescription drug corporations would receive an additional $2.8 billion annually in tax breaks while seniors would face higher drug costs because of the roll back of ACA provisions that closed the Medicare Part D coverage gap.

The ACA has saved more than 11.8 million Medicare beneficiaries over $26.8 billion on prescription drugs – an average of $2,272 per beneficiary, between 2010 and 2016, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In Wisconsin, 86,264 seniors each saved an average of $1,129 in just one year thanks to the ACA (2016 is the most recent year available). Currently, the price of prescription drugs is rising faster than any other medical good or service.

“President Trump has promised over and over again to lower drug prices for seniors, but instead has offered lip service, half-measures and gimmicks like discount cards that are paid for by weakening the Medicare Trust Fund,” said Alex Brower, Executive Director of the Wisconsin

Alliance for Retired Americans. “Trump isn’t fooling anyone and now, as COVID is raging and lives are at stake, it’s time for him to stop playing politics and pass long overdue COVID relief and policies that would finally stop drug corporations from price-gouging us on everything from insulin to high blood pressure medicines.”

 

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