Baldwin legislation would extend unemployment and work-share before July deadline, create New Deal-style publicly subsidized jobs program, begin climate transition, improving racial equity, and revitalizing rural areas
Statewide: In a virtual town hall meeting this morning over 160 Citizen Action leaders and members heard a full report from U.S. Senator Baldwin on the need to maintain and further extend economic relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. Watch Tammy Baldwin’s entire 30 minute presentation and Q&A session here. Milwaukee small business owner Ryan Clancy also joined the call to discuss the urgent need for further economic relief.
The COVID-19 induced economic crisis requires an urgent and large scale federal response. The duration of the pandemic, which is growing in Wisconsin and most of the country, and the persistent depression-like economic repercussions it is producing, could not have been fully anticipated in March when the last large scale relief passage was enacted. In addition, most of the minimal relief targeted to middle class and working people is set to expire July 25, including the enhanced unemployment benefits keeping tens of millions of working families afloat.
Tammy Baldwin’s Jobs for Economic Recovery Act would create a national subsidized jobs program to create hundreds of thousands of frontline jobs reminiscent of the Community Conservation Corps from the New Deal. The Rebuilding Main Street Act extends the $600/week unemployment stimulus payments to those out of work and applies the increased benefit to work-share programs, which subsidize workers for wages lost as a result of a company-wide reduction in hours. These two bills would prevent layoffs and put jobseekers back to work. Senator Baldwin is working with a coalition of Senators pushing for the inclusion of these provisions in the next COVID-19 relief package, expected to be considered this month.
In Citizen Action’s view, a large scale publicly-subsidized jobs program would also be an opportunity to initiative the green transition we need to prevent a climate genocide, and to employ people in the most depressed areas and constituencies, including people of color and folks who live in depressed rural regions.
“The ongoing public health and economic crisis in Wisconsin demands real solutions from Washington. We have to prevent further layoffs in our communities and put Wisconsinites back to work, so I’ve introduced legislation to do both,” said Senator Baldwin. “I’m proud to have strong partners like Citizen Action Wisconsin in this effort as we work together to support workers and businesses in our recovery from this economic crisis. Our reforms present a better way forward and we must seize it now.”
“In this great national emergency, the American people deserve and expect bold leadership up to the scale of the crisis,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “As working and middle class families confront employment conditions not seen in this country since the 1930s, they need both the continuation of the temporary economic relief enacted in March, and bold new investments in job creation that can only come from the federal government. We commend Senator Tammy Baldwin for stepping up with powerful policy proposals on the scale of the original New Deal. Her proposals, for which she is building support with a diverse coalition of Senators, are of the magnitude needed to address the current economic crisis, and lay the groundwork for a new economy needed to prevent a climate cataclysm, and extend opportunity to all those who have been shut out, especially people of color and the residents of depresses rural areas.”
The public health measure is essential, but must also be equitably enforced
Milwaukee: With the COVID-19 pandemic dangerously accelerating, governments have a moral obligation to take every step necessary to save lives. In Wisconsin, due to the hyper partisanship of the Wisconsin State Supreme Court and the conservatives who control the State Legislature, the onus falls entirely to local units of government.
With COVID-19 cases accelerating, the proposed City of Milwaukee mask ordinance (MKE Cares) proposed by Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic is a great first step. It is scheduled to be considered this week. Public health experts now agree that wearing masks in public is one of the most important steps we can take to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus, and yet public compliance is mixed at best. The Milwaukee proposal is modeled on the ordinances enacted by the Cities of Los Angeles, Phoenix, and San Francisco.
In Milwaukee and in Wisconsin, the virus is again spreading at an alarming rate (see data below). There is also a critical racial equity element of the crisis, as COVID-19 continues to infect and kill people of color at shockingly disproportionate rates. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, 24% of Wisconsin COVID-19 deaths have been to African Americans, and 30% of the people infected have been Latinx.
While racial equity demands bold action to contain the spread of the virus, there are major equity concerns related to enforcement and access to face masks that must also be addressed. A shocking report by Wisconsin Watch documents massive racial and ethnic disparities in arrests related to the now expired stay at home order. A stunning 77% of arrest were of African Americans, 22% were of Latinx, and only 6% were of white. The city map produced by the investigative journalism outfit shows that arrests were highly concentrated in African American and Latinx neighborhoods. Another concern being raised is access to masks for low-income Milwaukeeans. Citizen Action urges the Common Council to address both concerns by holding Milwaukee police strictly accountable for racially biased enforcement, and providing face masks to Milwaukeeans who cannot afford them.
By the Numbers: The Milwaukee COVID-19 Crisis is Growing Worse
The Milwaukee Health Department reported Friday that COVID 19 testing positivity rates have skyrocketed to 12.2%, a dangerously high number that rivals some of the most impacted southern states. Georgia has a 13.1% positive test rate and Alabama, has a 13.6% positive test rate. In Alabama many cities have already enacted mask ordinances. In addition, Milwaukee’s critically important reproduction rate R0 (also called infection rate) has risen to 1.07. (The number of additional persons each COVID positive person infects). According to academic public health experts a reproduction rate over 1 means the pandemic is growing and will over time overwhelm local hospitals. Many of the countries who have been most effective in controlling the pandemic are shutting down regions with reproduction rates over 1.
“We applaud Alderwoman Dimitrijevic for introducing this lifesaving ordinance,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “While our top priority must be a pandemic which is infecting and killing very unequally, it is also important that public health standards be enforced fairly and equally. We therefore also urge City of Milwaukee leadership to ensure equitable enforcement of the measure, and provide masks to those who cannot afford them, so that we do not exacerbate already severe racial disparities in Milwaukee.”
Report: 8 Billionaires in Wisconsin See Net Worth Jump $14.2 Billion or 36.1% in First Three Months of COVID-19 Pandemic
Meanwhile Wisconsinites, State & Local Governments Face Financial Hardship as Congress Stalls on New COVID-19 Financial Aid Package
MILWAUKEE—Wisconsin has 8 billionaires who collectively saw their wealth increase by $14.2 billion or 36.1% during the first three months 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, a new report by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF), Health Care for America Now (HCAN) and Citizen Action of Wisconsin shows.
Between March 18—the rough start date of the pandemic shutdown, when most federal and state economic restrictions were in place—and June 17, the total net worth of the state’s eight billionaires rose from $39.4 billion to $53.6 billion, based on an analysis of Forbes data. Forbes’ annual billionaires report was published March 18, 2020, and the most recent real-time data was collected June 17 from the Forbes website.
Three Wisconsin billionaires—John Menard, Jr., Diane Hendricks and Herbert Kohler, Jr.—saw their wealth grow by 65%, 39% and 29%, respectively. During about the same period of the pandemic 629,000 of the state’s residents lost their jobs, 26,000 fell ill with the virus and 700 died from it.
The three richest Americans, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, saw their combined wealth jump by $87 billion, or 38%, 11% and 58%, respectively. The total number of billionaires grew from 614 to 643.
“Now is the time for Wisconsinites to unite across our differences and demand our government leaders make decisions that help every-day people like us—not the richest 1% and a handful of corporations who are profiting from this pandemic,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “As individuals, we can wash our hands, avoid unnecessary travel, and check in on our friends and neighbors. As a united force, we can demand our local, state, and national governments do everything possible to protect everyone’s health and financial stability, no exceptions.”
“It’s immoral that billionaires are getting richer and richer while average Americans are treading water if they are lucky, or drowning, from the economic crash caused by the pandemic,” said Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness. “Congress needs to urgently provide a major new financial aid package to ensure working families can recover and critical state and local services can keep being provided. The package should repeal the huge tax break for millionaires in the first major financial aid law and block any new tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.”
“In the biggest public health crisis of our lifetimes, billionaires are getting richer while millions are losing coverage or have no access to affordable health care,” said Margarida Jorge, executive director of Health Care for America Now. Rather than pass the relief measures that we all need to beat COVID, Congress is letting families, workers, seniors and many others go without the health care they need to survive, letting health care workers go without protective equipment and forcing hospitals to face unprecedented shortages in beds, ventilators and medicines. It’s obvious there’s plenty of money—the problem here is Congress’ priorities.”
Decades of tax cuts for the rich have fueled the growth of billionaires and their wealth. And even in the midst of the greatest national emergency since World War II, tax handouts to the wealthy have continued—most recently in the form of a $135 billion handout slipped into the $2 trillion CARES pandemic relief law enacted in late March. It primarily benefits millionaire business owners and costs three times more than the law spends on social safety net programs and exceeds the amount expended on hospitals and public health.
The House HEROES Act passed in May would repeal this tax break that is giving an average tax cut of $1.6 million this year to 43,000 millionaires and billionaires, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT). That big payout contrasts sharply with the one-time stimulus checks of up to $1,200 that have helped 159 million people under the CARES Act. Closing this tax loophole and making it permanent would raise $246 billion per the JCT, which could be used for a new major pandemic financial relief and recovery package.
As the U.S. Senate begins consideration of the next coronavirus aid legislation, a broad coalition of more than 230 organizations, including some Wisconsin groups, is urging repeal of the Millionaires Giveaway tax cut for wealthy business owners. So far, 24 senators support repeal legislation (S. 3640), including Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D), but not Sen. Ron Johnson (R).
Rather than respond to growing needs from increasing numbers of unemployed people, new patients, and overburdened local and state agencies, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been slow-walking legislative action on another major relief measure such as the HEROES Act, especially one that would provide a major cash infusion to state and local governments that have lost huge amounts of tax revenue but must by law balance their budgets. Instead, McConnell has suggested that states file for bankruptcy.
The HEROES Act would greatly benefit Wisconsin during this economic crisis by providing immediate relief and laying the groundwork for a more robust economic recovery, including:
Extension through the end of the year of the $600 per week in enhanced unemployment benefits that are expiring at the end of July.
Renewal and increase in direct assistance checks to individuals and families: $1,200 per each adult and child, up to $6,000 per household.
$100 billion to protect renters and homeowners from evictions and foreclosures.
Increased support from the federal government directly to states through these provisions is the best way to avoid state cuts to jobs and services that would worsen the impact of the pandemic and prolong the recession the country is experiencing.
Economists warn that delayed action on more funding to states, unemployment benefits, and safety net services will have dire consequences for recovery, could lengthen and deepen the recession and curtail job growth for the next decade. Moreover, coronavirus cases are back on the rise in over two dozen states, including Wisconsin, where the re-opening process has increased risk of exposure thereby further jeopardizing the economy. Wisconsin Department of Health Services data confirms that the state’s 7-day average of new confirmed cases has steadily increased since mid-June.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has cited rising deficits in delaying immediate consideration of new pandemic relief legislation, but so far has not proposed rolling back the $135 billion Millionaires Giveaway in the CARES Act. Rather, McConnell’s key priority for the next relief package has been to provide legal immunity to employers by limiting workers’ rights in court to sue bosses who put their safety at risk or neglect COVID protocols.
Polling shows that half of Americans have been personally economically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic — losing their job or having their hours cut back. Congress must provide help by working with local and state elected officials and agencies to ensure workers, families and small businesses get the resources they need to make it through the pandemic and mitigate the harmful consequences of the economic slow-down.
State residents cannot afford excuses from Congressional leaders who prioritize tax giveaways for the rich and corporations over the basic needs of average people or more delays that will double down on prolonged pain for millions.
Citizen Action Statement on the Racist Murder of George Floyd
Milwaukee: Citizen Action of Wisconsin stands in solidarity with the family and friends of George Floyd, thousands of protesters across the country, and every person who loves humanity, in demanding that the four offers involved in his murder be swiftly brought to justice.
We strongly agree with our compatriots and our fellow People’s Action affiliate, Take Action Minnesota, that the protests in Minneapolis and in many other cities are “demonstrations of our pain and a cry for justice. It is an old pain borne of the historic, violent, publicly funded oppression of Black people… George Floyd should be alive today and prosecuting offers for his murder is the beginning, not end of justice.”
It is hard for us to believe that anyone other than a police officer would be able to avoid immediate arrest when such damning video evidence of a crime is available. The four day delay in the officer responsible being arrested and charged, and the failure to charge (as of this writing) the other officers who stood by and watched a murder, has badly damaged public confidence in the investigation and contributed to the turbulent events on the streets of Minneapolis. Before we can even begin to heal, justice must be brought to the four police offers involved in this racist murder and anyone else who tried to cover it up.
But the healing cannot stop there, because what happened to George Floyd, and all the other victims of publicly sanctioned racist murder we have come to know over the last decade, is ultimately caused not by a few bad apples but the structural racism that is at the very core of the American criminal justice and policing system. The system of mass incarceration grew out of the backlash against the civil rights and black power movements of the 1960s, and has made the U.S, the most incarcerated and over-policed country in the history of the free world. Only a massive shift in resources away from the publicly funded oppression of Black people, poor people, the Latinx community, and many many others and invested in our communities and a humane, anti-racist, and just system of public safety.
Supreme Court Shifts Life & Death Responsibility for Pandemic onto Legislature
What the state now must do to save lives and successfully open the economy is clear: will the GOP Legislature start doing its job?
Statewide: GOP legislative leaders may think they won a victory in their campaign to strip powers from Governor Evers, but they have actually shifted an immense burden of moral responsibility to themselves. The moral of the story for one Aesop’s fables encapsulates the moment: Be careful what you wish for, less it comes true.
The scientific consensus is overwhelming on how to best save lives, and restore the level of public confidence necessary to safely re-open the economy. Now the leaders of the Legislature have a choice: actually cooperate with Governor Evers to do the hard work of quickly implementing an effective response, or continue their campaign of obstruction and face the moral and political consequences for the human and economic toll.
By their very acts of publicly undermining the Governor’s popular emergency measures, and inducing the Wisconsin Supreme Court majority to render one of the most divisive and nakedly partisan decisions in Wisconsin history, they have made the task harder by prematurely ending state-wide social distancing without any back up plan, and undermining the social unity and commitment to norms necessary to contain a pandemic.
Because the Evers Administration took bold necessary action, and the millions of Wisconsinites who followed the directives voluntarily, no matter what the personal and economic sacrifice, Wisconsin made tremendous progress over the last 6 weeks in reducing the rate of infection. According to the CEO of the Medical College, Wisconsin has the reproduction rate (the number of additional people each Covid positive person infects) down to 1.0, the minimum for moving to more targeted virus containment strategies. But if the reproduction rate increases even slightly, to 1.1 or higher, the virus will within a few weeks begin spreading out of control.
We are in danger of losing all these hard won gains if the Legislature does not immediately fund, to whatever scale is necessary, a robust targeted containment strategy. There is an overwhelming scientific consensus, being pursued by the most effective pandemic responses around the globe, on what must be done to contain the pandemic and safely re-open the economy. There is no choice between public health and the economy. The economy will not bounce back until Wisconsinites feel safe, regardless of what politicians tell them to do.
Fill the containment gap created by the sudden and premature ending of mandated social distancing with a well resourced and targeted approach that is capable of identifying and isolating new pockets of infection as soon as they emerge. This includes:
Universal and rapid testing that reaches asymptomatic Wisconsinites and is immediately available in all at risk public and business locations.
A massive ramp up in contract tracing which means hiring thousands of new public health workers.
A medical surveillance system capable of rapidly intervening and isolating all of the new hotspots identified through testing and contact tracing.
Reinforce the norm of social distancing in all public interactions. In Wisconsin, there is much damage to repair. The mixed messages and the divide and conquer politics must end. GOP leaders must join Governor Evers in reinforcing this social ethic and dispense with their divisive rhetoric of oppression and liberation. The Supreme Court majority did the opposite in their divisive and dog-whistle racism oral arguments.
Create enforceable safety requirements for all workplaces. Workers cannot be forced to choose between their health and their livelihoods. (The WMC’s preferred voluntary standards will not work, and were immediately violated by some taverns the evening of the Supreme Court ruling)
These core elements of effective and effective pandemic containment are not just Citizen Action’s position, this is an overwhelming consensus of public health experts and responsible elected leaders across the globe. Some of these items will cost money, and if the majority of the Legislature will not invest the necessary resources, whatever it takes, the costs of inaction will be astronomical. The stakes could not be higher as Dr. Rick Bright, the former Director of Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority testified in Congress today: “Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be the darkest winter in modern history.”
Wisconsin has done it before. In 1918, when there were three major parties and as much partisan contention as today, Wisconsinites pulled together to take unified action on the worst pandemic in our history. “Wisconsin was the only state in the nation to meet the crisis with uniform, statewide measures that were unusual both for their aggressiveness and the public’s willingness to comply with them.”
“We have entered a season of consequences. In a pandemic success depends on elected leaders putting aside the divisions of normal politics and pulling together to take effective and decisive action,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “The GOP leadership of the Legislature got what it wanted, and stripped the Governor of much of his power to lead in this crisis. The onus of responsibility now falls squarely on their shoulders. It is our hope that they will elevate their leadership to the demands of the challenge we face, and work in concert with Governor Evers to do not what is politically convenient but what is required to save lives.”
See Citizen Action response to Wisconsin Supreme Court decision here.
Citizen Action case for free COVID 19 testing and treatment here.
Partisan Supreme Court Further Divides Wisconsin When Unity is a Question of Life and Death
Statewide: The Wisconsin State Supreme Court majority’s divisive and partisan decision late this afternoon, along with the obstructionism of the Legislature, risks making the worst public health threat in a century deadlier and the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression more catastrophic.
In a major national emergency–a pandemic, a depression, a major war–success depends on elected leaders (including judges) and the public putting aside the divisions of normal politics and pulling together to take effective and decisive action. Wisconsin has a history of doing just this, but the divide-and-conquer politics of the last decade, which have transformed the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the Legislature, is now undermining the political and social unity needed to rise to the challenge.
It was not always this way in Wisconsin. During the Influenza Epidemic of 1918, the only comparable public health emergency, the definitive history concludes that the Badger State achieved a much lower death rate than the national average because of the vigorous and unified response. “Wisconsin was the only state in the nation to meet the crisis with uniform, statewide measures that were unusual both for their aggressiveness and the public’s willingness to comply with them.” The Wisconsin Supreme Court of 1918, in an era with a limited view of the power of government, took no action to obstruct this broad and unprecedented exercise of executive authority.
In stark contrast, the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s deliberation and its decision on the current social distancing directive reveals a divisive brand of partisanship that will both make it much harder for the Governor and the Health Secretary to act, and will further undermine the public unity and social solidarity needed for an effective response.
First, the hyperbolic tone of several conservative justices in the oral arguments undermines public confidence in the process and will likely reduce adherence to social distancing. The justices often sounded more like partisan cable news or AM radio personalities than impartial judges sworn to impartially interpret the law.
Justice Rebecca Bradley claimed the Stay at Home order was “the definition of tyranny,” compared it to the internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II, and raised the specter of internment centers for victims of COVID-19. Bradley wondered how the order could be constitutional, despite the fact that the Legislature’s case does not question the constitutionality of the order, making the narrow claim that the statute calls for a rule that the Legislature can block.
Second, the Chief Justice resorted to divisive, and arguably coded racial appeals to minimize the threat of the pandemic and further polarize the state.
After being asked if the pandemic was a threat outside Milwaukee, Assistant Attorney General Colin Roth discussed the growth of hotspots elsewhere, citing the rising infection rate in Brown County. Chief Justice Patience Roggensack shot back: “Due to the meatpacking, though — that’s where Brown County got the flare,” she said.” It wasn’t just the regular folks of Brown County.”
Whether she intended it or not, the separation of workers, many of whom are from immigrant communities, from “regular folks of Brown County” is a classic example of dog whistle strategic racism which is grossly inappropriate for any figure of public or social authority, let alone a Chief Justice. For Roggensack to make such a public statement shows reckless disregard for her office and undermines public confidence in the legitimacy of the judicial branch of government. It also wrongly assumes that the infection of one group of people in the community will not accelerate the pandemic for the entire population. Many of the most dangerous new hot spots in the U.S. are in regions with meat packing plants.
“The reckless ruling threatens Wisconsin’s pandemic response by removing our most effective containment tool in the middle of the crisis and further dividing the state in a way that is likely to reduce compliance with social distance guidelines,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “This is a nakedly political decision by a majority that has no regard for the plain wording of the law or the unprecedented public health threat we are facing. This decision shows a reckless disregard for the law. As in the lame duck ruling last year, no fair minded person thinks this court majority would have taken this action if the social distancing order came from a Republican governor.“
Health Professionals Speak Out Against Social Distancing Protests
In video statements recorded this morning, health professionals explain why the the Governor’s Safer at Home order is an essential measure for containing COVID-19, creating conditions to gradually and safely reopen the economy
Statewide: This morning before scheduled State Capitol protests against Wisconsin’s most effective COVID-19 containment measure, public health professionals taped brief video interviews to discuss the situation. These dedicated caregivers hope by offering this testimony to counteract the disinformation being spread through social media and irresponsible national media outlets to mobilize opposition to social distancing. The health professionals explained why maintaining social distancing is essential for saving lives, protecting front line caregivers and other essential workers, and slowing the virus enough to safely reopen the economy.
Elizabeth Riley: Elizabeth is a nurse who recently returned to Wisconsin after spending several weeks working in a Brooklyn, NYC Intensive Care Unit. She describes the horror of the ICU, the horrible and lonely deaths of her patients, and her dread that Wisconsin could become like New York City if the Safer At Home order were lifted. https://youtu.be/JWa55RJtvBU
Jeff Weber: Jeff is the President of the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. He worries about Wisconsin hospitals’ capacity being overrun with a surge of COVID-19 cases resulting from these protests and premature lifting of the Safer At Home order. He states we need two weeks of sustained decline in new cases before lifting the order. https://youtu.be/dogIXdYMIe8
Lynn Carey: Lynn is a nurse, educator, and PhD as well as a double lung transplant recipient. Her advice for beating this virus: “stay home!” https://youtu.be/rKsyDBi8uU4
Victoria Gutierrez: Victoria is a frontline nurse in Madison. She is concerned that the capitol protest will cause an increase in COVID-19 cases and put strain on the already short supply of personal protective gear used by nurses. https://youtu.be/93sxJ5vxfOA
Mary Milton: Mary is a frontline nurse in Milwaukee. She monitors the protective gear used by her hospital’s workers. She says she has “never seen such suffering” as that of her COVID-19 patients. https://youtu.be/QXDgiTlHOFs
Emily Siegrist: Emily is a nurse and nurse educator from the Milwaukee area. She is worried about the lack of support for frontline health care professionals and that protesters today will not take protective measures. https://youtu.be/Oy9S_E0kRDQ
“Front line health professionals, many of whom are risking their own health treating the victims of COVID-19, are urging the people of Wisconsin to maintain social distancing as the best way to contain this deadly pandemic,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “If we are going to pull together and meet this challenge, we need to start listening to the scientists and the front-line caregivers, not the cynical politicians and billionaires seeking to exploit the crisis for their own purposes.”
Without free testing and treatment, Wisconsin will not slow down the transmission of the virus, or allow safe reopening of economy
Statewide: With the slow and uncoordinated federal response to the coronavirus pandemic paralyzing the country, the burden of leadership has fallen on state governments. Many states are stepping up to the task, and filling in as many gaps which should have been covered by the federal government as possible.
But legislative Republicans are blocking the emergency actions Wisconsin must take to slow the pandemic. This leadership malpractice will cost lives, and likely increase already appalling racial disparities in who dies during the pandemic. It will also move back the timeline for when Wisconites can safely go back to work, setting up a terrible choice between lives and economic livelihoods.
Of the many critical actions needed from the state government, Citizen Action of Wisconsin has focused on the need for free COVID-19 testing and treatment. Unless we remove the cost barriers to identify and treat the virus, we will never do the level of contact tracing and virus isolation that is needed to save lives and safely reopen the economy.
The Republicans in the Legislature this week blocked the advances towards free testing and treatment proposed by Governor Evers. The plan that passed the Assembly on Tuesday and the Senate early this afternoon does not include a mandate of free COVID-19 treatment for private health plans, which can average $10,000 to $20,000 dollars, more if the patient needs intensive care. It also fails to give the Governor the flexibility to fully leverage BadgerCare to expand health coverage during the emergency to uninsured Wisconsinites. In addition, the plan does not limit the cancellation of health coverage during the pandemic, which will increase the ranks of the uninsured. It also leaves in place insurance deductibles for testing, creating a dangerous barrier to finding out who in Wisconsin is infected.
In a pandemic, the fear of financially crippling medical bills is a grave risk to the entire community because it discourages people from seeking care. A survey by Citizen Action and the Healthcare Value Hub found that nearly half of Wisconsinites have gone without needed medical care because of fear of the cost in the last year. A national study by the Commonwealth Fund found that 68% of Americans consider copays and deductibles important in determining whether or not they will seek COVID 19 treatment.
The overwhelming cost of health care, which is dangerous in normal times, is absolutely deadly during a pandemic because it is a barrier to universal testing and treatment needed to contain and isolate the virus. This is the only way to identify everyone who has been infected, and interrupt the deadly chains of disease transmission. The disparity in access to health care is one of the drivers of the appalling racial disparities in who is contracting the virus and who is dying.
There is an overwhelming consensus among public health experts that we must have a massive testing and treatment program to contain this virus and to begin to reopen the economy. We need to start by testing and treating everyone with symptoms, and do contact tracing to isolate those who are infected. This must include testing community-wide to identify seemingly healthy people spreading the virus.
“In a major crisis when lives and livelihoods are at stake, it is critical that elected leaders step up to the scale of the challenge, said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “It is deeply disturbing that Wisconsin Republicans have decided to hamstring Governor Evers, and depend on a federal admininstion which has already shown itself unable to rise to the task.” We need immediate emergency health care and economic policies which address the gravity of the situation, Kraig continued. “The COVID-19 pandemic focuses us on the reality that we are all interconnected, and that leaving people out of our healthcare system risks the lives of everyone in the community,”
Legislature Must Do Better on Free Testing and Treatment for COVID 19
Governor’s Relief Plan Makes Progress on Free Treatment which is excluded in GOP package
Statewide: A major difference between Governor Evers and State Legislative leadership will, unless addressed, hamper Wisconsin’s COVID-19 containment efforts, cost lives, and move back the timeline for beginning to put people back to work. It also will likely increase already appalling racial disparities in who dies during the pandemic.
Governor Evers’ relief proposal makes progress on free testing and treatment of COVID-19, mandating that all private health plans the state can regulate are forbidden from charging copays and deductibles, and limiting the extent to which insurers can cancel coverage for non-payment. It also gives the administration authority to open up BadgerCare to more uninsured Wisconsinites.
The Republican legislative plan does not include a mandate of free COVID-19 treatment for private health plans, which can average $10,000 to $20,000 dollars, more if the patient needs intensive care. It also fails to give the Governor the flexibility to fully leverage BadgerCare to expand health coverage during the emergency to uninsured Wisconsinites. In addition, the GOP plan does not limit the cancellation of health coverage during the pandemic, which will increase the ranks of the uninsured.
The failure of the Republican relief plan to make all COVID-19 treatment free, and provide the flexibility to extend BadgerCare to more uninsured Wisconsinites, will dramatically weaken the COVID-19 response and delay efforts to reopen the economy.
In a pandemic, the fear of financially crippling medical bills is a grave risk to the entire community because it discourages people from seeking care. A survey by Citizen Action and the Healthcare Value Hub found that nearly half of Wisconsinites have gone without needed medical care because of fear of the cost in the last year. A national study by the
Commonwealth Fund found that 68% of Americans consider copays and deductibles important in determining whether or not they will seek COVID 19 treatment.
The overwhelming cost of health care, which is dangerous in normal times, is absolutely deadly during a pandemic because it is a barrier to universal testing and treatment needed to contain and isolate the virus. This is the only way to identify everyone who has been infected, and interrupt the deadly chains of disease transmission.
There is an overwhelming consensus among public health experts that we must have a massive testing and treatment program to contain this virus and to begin to reopen the economy. We need to start by testing and treating everyone with symptoms, and do contact tracing to isolate those who are infected. This must include testing community-wide to identify seemingly healthy people spreading the virus.
Critically, the failure to extend BadgerCare to the uninsured, will both make it much harder to contain the virus and further increase the documented Wisconsin racial disparities in infection and death rates.
We estimate based on modeling by the Economic Policy Institute that includes the people who lost coverage due to mass layoffs, there are now likely over 400,000 uninsured Wisconsinites. People of Color are substantially more likely to be uninsured. Guaranteeing free testing for those with health coverage, and leaving the uninsured on their own for testing and treatment, is likely to intensify morally repugnant racial disparities in COVID-19 deaths, while also undermining virus containment efforts.
“The COVID-19 pandemic focuses us on the reality that we are all interconnected, and that leaving people out of our healthcare system risks the lives of everyone in the community,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “Thousands of Wisconsinites who could otherwise have avoided infection may be needlessly put at risk if we don’t come together to assure that no one in Wisconsin delays or avoids treatment because they can’t afford the high cost of healthcare. A failure to eliminate the cost barrier to treatment also will cause ongoing economic carnage by forcing the state to continue to lock down huge sectors of the workforce.”
Emergency Powers Give Wisconsin Authority to use BadgerCare to Fight Coronavirus
Federal Emergency Declaration opens new avenues to guarantee everyone is tested and treated without cost sharing, fully covering all uninsured Wisconsinites
Statewide: Under pressure from a number of states seeking to stem the alarming speed of novel coronavirus transmission, the federal government late last week issued emergency regulations that would allow Wisconsin to use BadgerCare to guarantee that everyone in Wisconsin has health coverage during the pandemic. This would dramatically improve Wisconsin’s odds for slowing the coming pandemic by removing a major barrier to seeking testing and treatment. The federal government took similar steps during the H1N1 epidemic and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
If Wisconsin acts boldly and swiftly, this federal declaration gives the Wisconsin state government new power to slow the speed of the pandemic, and potentially save tens of thousands of lives. According to public health experts, one of the most critical things we can do to protect both the afflicted and the general public is to maximize the number of people with symptoms who immediately seek testing and treatment. COVID-19 is so contagious that delays in seeking medical care can lead to the infection of thousands of additional people. After we have tested and treated everyone with symptoms, and the federal government has addressed the shortage of testing kits, it is essential to test and treat community wide, because the disease is spread by seemingly healthy people without symptoms.
The fear of financially crippling health care bills in the profit-centered American health care system is a grave risk not only to affected individuals and their families but the entire community because it actually discourages people from seeking medical care.
The Coronavirus Relief Act passed by Congress this week guarantees free testing for COVID 19, which is a critical step forward, but is silent on the cost of any treatment for that disease or any other underlying illnesses discovered by testing. Without free treatment, many will be deterred from seeking medical help – especially people who lack health coverage, a rapidly expanding group in an economy experiencing mass layoffs!
A survey of 1,000 Wisconsinites in every corner of the state released last week by Citizen Action, in partnership with the Health Value Hub and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that nearly half of Wisconsinites have gone without needed medical carebecause of fear of the cost in the last year! This dangerous situation will be intensified by the large number of people losing their income during the pandemic. The affordability crisis in the American healthcare system is dangerous in normal times; during a pandemic, it is a deadly threat to the health of everyone in Wisconsin!
A preliminary analysis of the new emergency rules by Citizen Action of Wisconsin has identified two major steps Wisconsin can take to use BadgerCare to contain COVID-19. We also propose a third vital step that Wisconsin can take to make sure those who have private health insurance will not be deterred from seeking treatment due to unaffordable copays and deductibles associated with even the best American health insurance plans. Many of these proposals are already being pursued by other states. (The Evers Administration may be developing plans internally that are not yet public which include some of these proposals.)
Step 1: Wisconsin has the authority to propose waivers to the federal government, which can be approved within days of submission. These waivers can make it much easier to enroll in BadgerCare and to retain it, including online and phone enrollment, extension of renewal deadlines, suspension of cancellations, and elimination of barriers such as premiums, copays, work requirements, and many other administrative hurdles.
Critically, Wisconsin could adopt a “presumptive eligibility” policy that allows medical providers, enrollment staff, schools, and community health centers to enroll people in BadgerCare without any income test if they appear eligible. This is especially helpful in an environment where there are mass layoffs and it would be time consuming to confirm that a family was eligible when unemployment insurance claims are likely to overwhelm the state’s processing capacity. The Coronavirus Relief Act which passed Congress this week increases the federal share of Medicaid costs in Wisconsin to 65.5%, offsetting part of the state cost for expanding BadgerCare enrollment.
Step 2: Wisconsin should immediately expand BadgerCare by accepting the Medicaid Expansion authorized and funded by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Without ACA Medicaid Expansion, “presumptive eligibility” will not work for many adults who do not fit into specific Medicaid eligible categories and are (or appear to be) above the federal poverty line. In addition, as Wisconsin is losing $340 million in the current state budget because it turned down the ACA Medicaid expansion funding, this revenue could immediately be deployed in the fight to contain COVID-19. Accepting Medicaid Expansion would allow Wisconsin to use presumptive eligibility to get the state close to universal health coverage and to reassure the public that cost should not deter them from seeking COVID-19 testing and treatment. It would also defray some and perhaps all of the state’s costs for increased enrollment resulting from all of the emergency measures we propose.
Step 3: The massive level of cost sharing in most private health insurance plans also deters people from seeking COVID-19 testing and treatment, endangering public health. Our recent statewide survey showed that almost half of respondents had avoided medical treatment and services in the last year, and most of them had health insurance coverage. A number of states already mandated that health insurance plans cover COVID-19 testing and treatment with no consumer cost sharing. So far, Wisconsin has only recommended that insurers suspend copays and deductibles. It would be prudent for Wisconsin to actually ban cost sharing as a danger to public health. If this creates too much of a burden on health insurance and self-insured plans, Wisconsin could also outlaw hospital price gouging by requiring them to accept Medicare rates for all treatment that results from a COVID-19 test. There is no justification for hospitals and medical providers to charge unreasonable prices for their services during this state and national emergency.
“We need bold leadership now more than ever. This unprecedented public health emergency focuses our attention on the reality that we are all interconnected, and that leaving people out of our healthcare system risks the lives of everyone in the community,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “Tens of thousands of Wisconsinites who could otherwise have avoided infection may be needlessly put at risk if we don’t come together to assure that no one in Wisconsin delays or avoids treatment because they can’t afford the high cost of healthcare.”