Bill Kaplan: Wisconsin’s infrastructure is falling apart

Bill Kaplan: Wisconsin’s infrastructure is falling apart

Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers inherited a polarized political environment. And, he shares power with a dysfunctional GOP-led legislature, disinterested in addressing long-term costly challenges. The Wisconsin Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers issued a 2020 Report Card for Wisconsin’s infrastructure. The overall GPA is only a C (“mediocre requires attention”). The specifics are damning.

Roads earned a D+: “More than one-third of these roads are in fair or below condition and deterioration is likely to continue over the next 10 years. …Deficient roads cost drivers $6 billion annually due to wear and tear on vehicles, wasted fuel due to congestion and the overall cost of crashes on roadways.”

Bridges earn a C+: Wisconsin has “more than 1,000 bridges … that are considered structurally deficient. … 1,955 bridges in Wisconsin that require repair, with an estimated price tag of $14 billion.”

Dams earn a C+: “Nearly 200 dams are considered ‘high hazard’ meaning loss of life would be probable should the dam fail. The annual (state) budget for dam safety is approximately $750,000 per year … . However, increased resources are needed to ensure public safety and minimize economic impact from future dam failures.”

Drinking water earns a C-: Wisconsin “must contend with aging water treatment and distribution systems … . Lead, bacteria, nitrates, (PFAS – toxic chemicals), arsenic and radium are some of the water quality concerns … . It is estimated that $8.6 billion will be needed to address infrastructure deficiencies over the next two decades… . Increased investment in drinking water infrastructure is needed (for) safe and reliable water supply for future generations.”

The Report Card also grades airports C+, energy B, hazardous waste B-, inland waterways C-, ports C+, solid waste B-, stormwater C, transit D+ and wastewater C-. Other infrastructure problems such as access to high-speed internet (broadband expansion), housing, public schools and universities need a spotlight too. Deficiencies are common in both rural and urban areas. Presidential leadership is needed to highlight and resolve these long-standing infrastructure needs.

Help may be on the way. Wisconsin Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin tweeted: “We need a bold economic plan and POTUS has put one forward that will create jobs, put people back to work and rebuild economic security for working families.” President Joe Biden is sending Congress the American Jobs Plan to address the problems outlined by the American Society of Civil Engineers and much more. He said: “It’s a once-in-a-generation investment in America (including Wisconsin), unlike anything we’ve seen or done since we built the Interstate Highway System and the Space Race decades ago.”

Millions of well-paying jobs will be created to rebuild our infrastructure, mitigate climate change impact and bring all Americans into the twenty-first century. Biden pays for his plan by increasing the corporate tax rate, closing tax loopholes and making certain all profitable corporations pay for their use of infrastructure. Biden said: “We can do this. We have to do this. We will do this. … This is the United States of America.”

— Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: Healthcare realities face Speaker Vos

Bill Kaplan: Healthcare realities face Speaker Vos

There is simultaneous hope and danger in ending the pandemic. Although Wisconsin is in the top tier of vaccinations, the crisis is not over. Cases are up significantly nationally and somewhat in Wisconsin. Moreover, more contagious variants are widespread. Masking remains critical. The American Hospital, Medical and Nurses Associations have said “wearing a face mask” is necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19. JAMA reported: “An evaluation of state policies showed greater declines in daily COVID-19 cases after issuing mask mandates compared with states that did not have mandates.” Over 30 states, including 9 GOP-led states, have mask mandates.

However, Wisconsin’s mask mandate has ceased. Know-nothing GOP legislators and their callous business supporters persuaded the state Supreme Court to overturn Democratic Governor Tony Evers’ effort to protect all Wisconsinites. Furthermore, the decision could cost Wisconsin $50 million per month in federal food assistance. Sherrie Tussler, Hunger Task Force, said: “That’s $50 million that would be spent on Wisconsin food at our grocery stores. It would help food producers. It would help farmers. It would help our struggling dairy industry.”

Instead of shooting himself and Wisconsin in the foot, GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos should reverse course. Introduce a bare-bones emergency order bill restoring a mask mandate to protect Wisconsinites, save lives and restore federal food aid. Governor Evers would happily sign. Enough political games, lives are at stake. There are also other healthcare realities from the pandemic to face.

Millions of Americans (thousands of Wisconsinites) lost healthcare coverage during the pandemic and subsequent recession. Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was able to help. President Joe Biden reopened enrollment for ACA subsidized private insurance. Well-over 200,000 Americans, including thousands of Wisconsinites, have gained coverage. And, the American Rescue Plan is now making ACA no-cost or affordable private insurance more available to millions of low-income and middle class Americans. The Biden administration is also funding an ad campaign and healthcare navigators to help enrollees. The Wisconsin Stop the COVID Spread coalition could reinforce by alerting Wisconsinites about their new options.

ACA Medicaid expansion also helped to enroll millions in 2020. Moreover, the American Rescue Plan provides a generous financial incentive for the 12 states, including Wisconsin, that never expanded Medicaid. These states are now eligible for a 5 percent boost for their regular Medicaid program for 2 years and a permanent 90 percent federal match for Medicaid expansion. States are listening.

GOP-led Wyoming passed Medicaid expansion in the House. GOP Representative Steve Harshman (former Speaker) after previously opposing 7 times, said: “I’ve had kind of a change of heart, frankly.” Current GOP Speaker Eric Barlow said: “I voted no multiple times on this issue. I’m going to vote yes this time, because I haven’t seen any other solution.” The bill’s narrow loss in a Senate committee vote can’t diminish the House vote’s historic importance. A harbinger for Wyoming and Wisconsin.

Wisconsin, under GOP Governor Warren Knowles, implemented regular Medicaid early on (1966). Will Vos make Wisconsin the last state to expand Medicaid?

– Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

 

Bill Kaplan: Circumstances have changed, expand BadgerCare

Amidst the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, retiring Wisconsin GOP state Senator Luther Olsen was prophetic in calling for consideration of expanding BadgerCare (Medicaid) last June: “When you’ve got that kind of money on the table and a lot of other Republican states have taken it, I think you have to look at that. When you change your mind in politics, you have to have a reason to do this. And this is a reason.”

Shortly thereafter voters in GOP-led Missouri and Oklahoma passed binding Medicaid expansion referendums, joining four other GOP-led states which passed similar referendums during the previous administration. Currently, eighteen GOP-led states have Medicaid expansion, and nine of twelve Midwest states.

In February, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the American Hospital and Medical Associations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other national groups issued an extraordinary call for expanding Affordable Care Act private insurance coverage and federal fiscal “incentives for (the twelve) states that have not yet expanded Medicaid … .”: “Achieving universal (healthcare) coverage is particularly critical as we strive to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and work to address longstanding inequities in healthcare access and disparities in health outcomes.” It’s time for their Wisconsin counterparts to listen and act.

Moreover, GOP-led Wyoming is moving forward. State House and Senate legislative committees have approved expanding Medicaid. The effort was led by GOP Representative Steve Harshman, former Speaker of the House, other GOP legislators and the miniscule Democratic caucus.

The Wyoming Star-Tribune editorialized: “So what’s different this time? For one, it seems like Medicaid expansion is here to stay. Thirty-eight states — both red and blue – have taken the plunge. And expansion has now been in place for a decade, surviving three presidential administrations and multiple Supreme Court challenges. … Plus, it could actually make Wyoming money at a time when the state is desperate for a new source of revenue. Due to a change in federal law (American Rescue Plan) the 12 states (including Wisconsin) that haven’t expanded Medicaid would receive a 5 percent boost (for two years) for their traditional Medicaid program (and ninety percent permanent federal match for the Medicaid expansion enrollees).”

Wisconsin implemented traditional Medicaid in 1966 under GOP Governor Warren Knowles. So it has been disheartening that state Republicans left federal money on the table for other states with their refusal to expand BadgerCare. False and scurrilous attacks on Medicaid expansion as “socialism” and “welfare” are widely off the mark. Medicaid is a healthcare program with private providers, covering over 70 million (985,000 in BadgerCare) Americans. The nonpartisan state Legislative Fiscal Bureau recently said that Wisconsin expansion would save the state over $1.6 billion (and cover 90,000 more Wisconsinites).

JAMA has reported that Medicaid expansion “is like a silver bullet for improving U.S. healthcare”: reducing mortality from heart disease, cancer and childbirth; improving racial disparities; reducing uncompensated care; preventing rural hospital closures; helping economic-job growth and lowering the cost of private insurance. Wisconsin will have a healthier and stronger recovery by expanding BadgerCare now. Circumstances have changed.

– Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Big Vote Coming on the Right to Organize

Big Vote Coming on the Right to Organize

By: Robert Kraig, Executive Director

At the national level we have more opportunity than we have seen in decades to begin to achieve a just and equitable America. I am asking you to take some quick action on one of the most important advances we can win, the right to organize a union.

As we know in Wisconsin, conservative politicians like Scott Walker use “divide and conquer” tactics to gain power and do the bidding of the wealthy few. This includes attacking the right to organize unions and to collectively bargain, and pitting people against each other based on the color of their skin or where they live. The result is skyrocketing inequality, urban and rural areas with declining opportunity, and horrendous disparities in income and wealth.

We have one of the best opportunities since the New Deal to restore the right to organize. The Protect the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) will be voted on in the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday. With the strong support of President Joe Biden, our most pro-labor president in 50 years, we have a real chance to win this time.

Passing the PRO Act is one of the most important things we can do to advance a bold progressive agenda on everything we care about, from health care to racial justice to climate change.

First, the ability of working people to join unions and collectively bargain for fair pay and working conditions is a fundamental human right. The freedom to join a union helps all working people support their communities and the ones they love because when unions are strong, they set wage standards and make wages more equal to close racial and gender gaps.

Second, restoring the right to organize builds the power of working people to challenge corporate domination, which shifts the balance of power towards progressives. The right and corporate America have done everything they can to demolish unions because there is no precedent for a progressive governing majority that is not backed up by a robust labor movement.

Restoring the right to join a union on a New Deal scale will diversify and energize both American politics and organized labor. The sectors ripe for organizing – retail, fast food, agriculture and food processing, the gig economy, low wage caregivers and paraprofessionals, and the emerging green economy – have the potential to inject into our movement tens of millions organized low wage workers, disproportionately women and people of color who are denied living wages. This will contribute more to economic and political equality than any single governmental action within our reach.

If you agree with me that it is time to restore the right to organize, please take a minute to send an email to your Congressional representative urging them to vote yes on the PRO Act on Wednesday.

If you want more information about the PRO Act, there are excellent resources in the National AFL-CIOs tool kit. Here is the link.

EMAIL Text (for the sender to edit)

Dear Representative [their MOC]

As a member of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, I urge you to support the PRO Act.

The ability of working people to join unions and collectively bargain for fair pay and working conditions is a fundamental human right. The freedom to join a union helps all working people support their communities and the ones they love because when unions are strong, they set wage standards and make wages more equal to close racial and gender wage gaps.

We have one of the best opportunities since the New Deal to restore the right to organize. The Protect the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) will be voted on in the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday. With the strong support of President Joe Biden, our most pro-labor president in 50 years, we have a real chance to win this time.

I hope I can count on you to vote for the PRO Act when it comes before the House of Representatives, and to lend your voice to restoring truly shared prosperity in America.

Signed,

Bill Kaplan: Democratic-led House passes COVID-19 relief

Bill Kaplan: Democratic-led House passes COVID-19 relief

The pandemic continues to devastate the U.S., with 28.5+ million cases and 512,000+ deaths. Wisconsin has had over 563,000 cases and 6,400+ deaths. There is hope with vaccinations increasing, but masks and physical distancing remain essential, given the emergence of more contagious virus variants. Wisconsin Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin has introduced legislation to greatly increase identification of these mutations to help control more rapid spread.

The virus has also pulverized the economy. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said: “The economic recovery remains uneven … and the path ahead is highly uncertain. There is a long way to go.” Moreover, Powell indicated that the real unemployment rate is “close to 10 percent.” While Wisconsin has a lower jobless rate than some states, hundreds of thousands of jobs are gone. And, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reported: 334,000 adult Wisconsinites had “difficulty getting enough food” for their families, 156,000 Wisconsinites are “not caught up on rent” and 1,219,000 Wisconsinites are having “difficulty covering usual household expenses.”

President Joe Biden told governors: “We just have to step up (to the) economic toll (and) address with the same aggressiveness and seriousness of purpose as we do the virus. And that’s what the American Rescue Plan (COVID-19 relief) does.” Polls show most Americans, including many Republicans, support Biden. More than 160 CEO’s told Congress: “The American Rescue Plan provides a framework for coordinated public-private efforts to overcome COVID-19 and to more forward with a new era of inclusive growth. The country’s business community is prepared to work with you to achieve these critical objectives.”

On Saturday morning the Democratic-led House passed the American Rescue Plan (ARP) 219-212 along party lines. All Wisconsin Democratic representatives voted yes and all Wisconsin GOP representatives opposed. The bill was passed under the reconciliation process so it can’t be stalled or killed by a Senate filibuster. Earlier, Wisconsin Democratic Representative Ron Kind said: “It’s been more than a year since the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in the United States. (And,) our nation continues to face both a public health and economic crisis due to this pandemic. … This COVID-19 relief package takes meaningful steps to support struggling families, end the public health emergency and get our economy back on track.”

The ARP provides: funding to control COVID-19, $1,400 payments (excludes affluent), extends-enlarges unemployment benefits, enhances Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for childless workers, expands Child Tax Credit for child-care expenses, improves retirement security through help for troubled multiemployer pension plans, reduces Affordable Care Act private insurance premiums, funds safe school re-openings, small business relief, aid for farmers, assistance to local-state-tribal governments, and help for food and housing.

The CBPP said: 321,000 Wisconsinites would be helped by EITC expansion, 1,159,000 Wisconsin children would benefit from the Child Tax Credit expansion and 738,000 Wisconsinites would get more food aid. Regrettably, the House bill’s $15 minimum wage provision was overruled by the Senate parliamentarian for the Senate’s reconciliation bill. However, the ARP will accelerate Wisconsin’s health and economic recovery.

— Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995–2009

Act Now: Pledge to be a Climate Activist

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  • Protect Driftless waterways and demand that an Environmental Impact Study is done before construction begins on the Roth Feeder Pig II CAFO
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Bill Kaplan: Speaker Vos postures, President Biden delivers

Bill Kaplan: Speaker Vos postures, President Biden delivers

GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, pretending to overturn supposed “illegal executive overreach” by Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers, did it again. Vos led the effort to blowup a compromise COVID-19 relief bill agreed to by Evers and the GOP-led state Senate. Then Vos and the GOP-led legislature repealed the mask mandate, saying it was “not about (Evers’) mask order.” Poppycock! If Vos and other GOP legislators really supported wearing masks they could vote for a Democratic-sponsored bill “to reinstate the use of face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (including increasingly contagious virus variants).”

Democratic state Senator Jon Erpenbach said: “As elected officials, we took an oath to protect the lives of Wisconsin citizens and Republicans should have no problem supporting this bill.” Even with improved vaccination, Wisconsin is still fighting the pandemic: 550,000+ cases, 6,000+ dead. The science prove masks work. 11 GOP-led states have mask mandates.

Moreover, Vos’ politicking led to other dire problems. Repeal of Evers’ emergency order on masking jeopardized about $50 million per month in federal food assistance for 243,000 Wisconsinites. Other federal aid for transit funding may also be threatened by GOP games. Moreover, GOP legislators tried to shift the blame to Evers for this fallout, including re-imposition of a one-week waiting period for jobless claims. Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley rebuked Republicans: “It’s their policy.”

Similar nonsense transpired in Congress. GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy refused to penalize Georgia GOP Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene for her anti-Semitic, racist and murderous rants and threats. Greene said California’s terrible wildfires were caused by Jewish bankers using a space laser, and “liked” a Facebook post calling for “a bullet to the head” of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. UW-Madison political science professor Eleanor Neff Powell said: “Typically the party (of the offending member) has asked the person to step aside, they’ve taken the vote themselves (to discipline), and then the chamber as a whole takes the vote to confirm that action.”

However, McCarthy pretended the problem was that Democrats wanted Greene removed from House committees, rather than Greene’s conduct and his inaction. This forced the hand of the Democratic-led House. It voted 230-199 to remove Greene from House committees. Only 11 GOP representatives (none from Wisconsin) joined all Democrats, including Wisconsin’s. Wisconsin GOP Representative Mike Gallagher shamefully voted no, ignoring McCarthy’s inaction. Gallagher disingenuously said: “I’m not sure we should want to set the precedent of another party being able to remove people from their committee assignments, no matter how outlandish (murdering Pelosi) their comments.”

But there’s hope. A $1.9 trillion COVID-19 recovery plan has moved forward in Congress. It includes help for the 10 million who lost their jobs, nearly 8 million additional poor, funding to reopen schools safely, healthcare coverage expansion and paid sick-family leave, relief to small business, assistance for local-state governments and public health funding. Wisconsin congressional Democrats voted yes while state Republicans opposed. President Joe Biden will sign it. He delivers. Political games vs. tangible benefits for struggling Americans.

— Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: Speaker Vos postures, President Biden delivers

Bill Kaplan: Speaker Vos postures, President Biden delivers

GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, pretending to overturn supposed “illegal executive overreach” by Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers, did it again. Vos led the effort to blowup a compromise COVID-19 relief bill agreed to by Evers and the GOP-led state Senate. Then Vos and the GOP-led legislature repealed the mask mandate, saying it was “not about (Evers’) mask order.” Poppycock! If Vos and other GOP legislators really supported wearing masks they could vote for a Democratic-sponsored bill “to reinstate the use of face coverings to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (including increasingly contagious virus variants).”

Democratic state Senator Jon Erpenbach said: “As elected officials, we took an oath to protect the lives of Wisconsin citizens and Republicans should have no problem supporting this bill.” Even with improved vaccination, Wisconsin is still fighting the pandemic: 550,000+ cases, 6,000+ dead. The science prove masks work. 11 GOP-led states have mask mandates.

Moreover, Vos’ politicking led to other dire problems. Repeal of Evers’ emergency order on masking jeopardized about $50 million per month in federal food assistance for 243,000 Wisconsinites. Other federal aid for transit funding may also be threatened by GOP games. Moreover, GOP legislators tried to shift the blame to Evers for this fallout, including re-imposition of a one-week waiting period for jobless claims. Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley rebuked Republicans: “It’s their policy.”

Similar nonsense transpired in Congress. GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy refused to penalize Georgia GOP Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene for her anti-Semitic, racist and murderous rants and threats. Greene said California’s terrible wildfires were caused by Jewish bankers using a space laser, and “liked” a Facebook post calling for “a bullet to the head” of Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. UW-Madison political science professor Eleanor Neff Powell said: “Typically the party (of the offending member) has asked the person to step aside, they’ve taken the vote themselves (to discipline), and then the chamber as a whole takes the vote to confirm that action.”

However, McCarthy pretended the problem was that Democrats wanted Greene removed from House committees, rather than Greene’s conduct and his inaction. This forced the hand of the Democratic-led House. It voted 230-199 to remove Greene from House committees. Only 11 GOP representatives (none from Wisconsin) joined all Democrats, including Wisconsin’s. Wisconsin GOP Representative Mike Gallagher shamefully voted no, ignoring McCarthy’s inaction. Gallagher disingenuously said: “I’m not sure we should want to set the precedent of another party being able to remove people from their committee assignments, no matter how outlandish (murdering Pelosi) their comments.”

But there’s hope. A $1.9 trillion COVID-19 recovery plan has moved forward in Congress. It includes help for the 10 million who lost their jobs, nearly 8 million additional poor, funding to reopen schools safely, healthcare coverage expansion and paid sick-family leave, relief to small business, assistance for local-state governments and public health funding. Wisconsin congressional Democrats voted yes while state Republicans opposed. President Joe Biden will sign it. He delivers. Political games vs. tangible benefits for struggling Americans.

— Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: Speaker Vos’ foolhardiness vs. healthcare security

Bill Kaplan: Speaker Vos’ foolhardiness vs. healthcare security

The U.S. leads the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths, 26+ million and 440,000+ respectively. Wisconsin has 542,000+ cases and 5,900+ deaths. There is hope, vaccines are being administered, but it will take months for the Biden administration to ramp up production and distribution. In the interim, the American Hospital, Medical and Nurses Associations said: Americans can “help stop the spread of the virus (by) wearing a face mask … – allowing science and evidence to shape our decisions and inform our actions.”

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said: “(The) main thing about the economy, is getting the pandemic under control, getting everyone vaccinated, getting people wearing masks … . That’s the single most important growth policy that we can have.” Moreover, the CDC reported that universal masking protects the mask wearer and the public. Masking is the bridge to prevent shutdowns until vaccination is completed.

However, Wisconsin GOP legislative leaders seem oblivious. Several weeks ago the GOP-led Senate and Democratic Governor Tony Evers compromised and agreed to a modest COVID-19 relief bill. But GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos blew it up, insisting that the bill be amended to include “poison pills” unacceptable to Evers. Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley said: “Legislative Republicans take one step forward, and then three steps back.” The GOP-led Senate also – alarmingly – voted to end Governor Evers’ mask mandate. GOP Senator Rob Cowles dissented: “I think it’s the wrong message. I’m coming from the science (and) healthcare point of view … .”

It looked like Speaker Vos was going to pell-mell end the mask mandate. But Democratic Representative Evan Goyke, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau and the MJS revealed that ending the mask mandate would cost Wisconsin about $50 million in federal food assistance for 243,000 Wisconsinites. It was the “gang that couldn’t shoot straight.” Vos paused, blaming the Senate and looking for a way out.

Vos should reconsider the human toll from ending universal masking, especially with increasingly contagious virus variants. GOP legislators from 7 states have died from COVID-19. MN GOP state Senator Jerry Relph died after attending a post-Election Day party, with most GOP legislators not wearing masks. NH GOP House Speaker Dick Hinch also died after attending a similar event. NH GOP Representative William Marsh, a retired doctor, said: “Those in our caucus who refused to take precautions are responsible for Dick Hinch’s death.”

Other conservatives get it. The National Association of Manufacturers and U.S. Chamber of Commerce support President Biden’s mask mandate for interstate travel and on federal property. And, the Wisconsin Hospital Association and Medical Society support Governor Evers’ mask mandate. Vos is at a crossroads – help govern or play to a narrowing base.

The pandemic demands healthcare security. President Biden is moving to extend coverage at a lower cost under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Heeding Wisconsin Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin he reopened the ACA private insurance marketplace to help jobless Americans. Over 100,000 Wisconsinites could gain coverage. That’s the right road – healthcare security, including masking.

— Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: Expand healthcare coverage in 2021

The pandemic has not peaked, with a cumulative 24 million+ cases nationally and 400,000+ deaths. Wisconsin staggers from a cumulative near 525,000 cases with about 5,500 deaths, including a new daily record of 128 deaths. Moreover, the resultant recession resulted in millions losing employer-based healthcare coverage. But the Affordable Care Act (ACA) proved durable. Enrollment for ACA private insurance increased by 6.6 percent on the federal marketplace, including over 192,000 Wisconsinites. Medicaid enrollment increased nationally by over 5.8 million, including about 85,000 in Wisconsin.

However, millions remain uncovered, especially in the 12 states, including Wisconsin, that refuse to expand Medicaid. If ever a time to expand healthcare coverage was imperative the pandemic has made that clear. Bipartisan common sense and cooperation are required. And, last week Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers and the GOP-led state Senate got off to a good start for 2021, agreeing on a modest COVID-19 relief bill: Medicaid and SeniorCare would cover COVID-19 vaccinations, an incentive for college students to volunteer, some liability protection from lawsuits and continued waiving a one-week waiting period to receive jobless benefits. It also excluded some “poison pills” passed by the GOP-led state Assembly. The Senate vote was near-unanimous. Why?

There was bipartisan recognition that many voters want a reset and will blame Democrats and Republicans for doing nothing. And, new Democratic and GOP Senate leadership helped. Moreover, Evers is applying political skills to govern more effectively. Finally, all sides rediscovered essential governing building blocks – compromise, negotiation and respect for the opposition.

Similarly, the Evers administration, Wisconsin National Guard and the UW System are cooperating in sending mobile COVID-19 vaccination personnel around Wisconsin. UW System President Tommy Thompson said: “UW nursing and pharmacy students can provide critical help to get Wisconsinites vaccinated. We are pleased to offer this tuition credit and appreciate the partnership with Governor Tony Evers as we once again demonstrate the Wisconsin Idea at work – where there’s a problem facing Wisconsin, (the) UW System is part of the solution.”

These steps might help policymakers to take bigger ones such as expanding healthcare coverage. Wisconsin is losing available federal money to other states by not expanding Medicaid. That funding would cover more Wisconsinites while substituting federal for state funding. State spending would be saved on uncompensated care, mental health and drug-alcohol treatment. Savings could then be used for broadband expansion, roads and schools.

A new study by the Urban Institute found hospitals in Medicaid expansion states saw uncompensated care decline with millions in savings. Those hospitals were in better shape to fight COVID-19. Similarly, Health Affairs reported that Medicaid expansion made rural hospitals more viable. Medicaid expansion, embraced by 38 states, makes fiscal sense.

Moreover, the Biden administration has a mandate to expand healthcare coverage. It will likely extend ACA subsidies to the middle class and many below the poverty level to buy ACA private insurance, solving a coverage problem in Wisconsin.

However, should the GOP-led legislature want to leave federal money on the table with state budget problems unresolved?

– Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.