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Democratic proposal would put Legislature back in charge of changes to Medicaid
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Democratic proposal would put Legislature back in charge of changes to Medicaid

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A group of Democratic lawmakers is trying to roll back state law to a time when the Legislature decided all major cuts to Wisconsin's health care programs.

The bill, announced Monday, would put the Legislature back in charge of deciding costs and eligibility associated with Medicaid and Badgercare, essentially taking the state back to a time before Gov. Scott Walker took office. 

The proposal comes in response to potential cuts announced last week by Department of Health Services Secretary Dennis Smith, which outlined changes in care for more than 200,000 people and the possibility of cutting another 53,000 off the rolls entirely. 

"I am glad they are proposing this," said Jon Peacock, project director for the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. "This restores the authority to the Legislature, where it belongs."

The 2011-13 state budget gave Department of Health Services Secretary Dennis Smith sweeping powers to make changes to the state's medical assistant programs. Those changes, however, must be approved by the governor and the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee.

Smith announced a series of cost-cutting measures last week, most of them aimed at addressing the $554 million needed to balance the state's medical assistance programs. Under his plan, some 215,000 children and adults would be shifted to lower-cost state plans. If the state fails to receive a federal waiver allowing it to change eligibility requirements, some 53,000 adults could be dropped from coverage altogether. 

"Those kinds of changes are decisions that should not be left to one person," said Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, one of the bill's co-sponsors. "Cutting thousands off of health care is a decision that needs the oversight of the Legislature. That's what the checks and balances are for." 

Cullen Werwie, Walker's spokesman, said Medicaid was the top priority for the governor during the budget process. 

"Nearly every new state tax dollar collected was directed to Medicaid-related programs, which was needed to tackle a $1.8 billion budget Medicaid deficit that was created at least in part by mismanagement from Democrats," he said. "Moving forward we will continue to work with DHS to ensure taxpayer dollars are efficiently and effectively targeted to those who are truly in need of assistance."

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The low cost of BadgerCare health insurance has enabled Drew Hanson to work part time while caring for his 4-year-old daughter since his wife died, he said. But proposed premium increases would force him to work full time and see her less, Hanson said Wednesday at a public hearing.

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More than 200,000 Wisconsinites could be affected by sweeping Medicaid changes proposed to address a half-billion dollar shortfall in state health care programs. Some 215,000 children and adults would be shifted to lower-cost state plans, state officials announced Friday. 

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