Sunday February 17, 2019

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Fix State-Local Mental Health Partnerships

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Wednesday, 01 August 2018
in Wisconsin

jailedLocal governments faced with decreased shared revenue and Wisconsin Medicaid payments are hard pressed to combat addiction with community-based treatment alternatives instead of incarceration. Sen. Kathleen Vinehout describes the challenges and offers solutions.


ALMA, WI - “Let me tell you a story,” the county supervisor said.

A man I’ll call Frank was picked up for drunk driving. Frank faced a felony charge. Frank was sent by our local judge to a county-based program funded with a grant. Over the years, the county supervisor helped the county get funding from the Treatment Alternatives and Diversion (TAD) program.

“The drug counsellor asked the man why he drank a quart of vodka a day,” the supervisor told me. The man said, “My teeth hurt.”

Counsellors worked to get Frank BadgerCare, and medical care. They got him to a dentist, who pulled all his teeth. Frank spent two months on antibiotics. He’s now sober and able to do some fishing – something he loves and hadn’t done in years. The supervisor thanked me for my help, saying the TAD program saved money and saved lives.

In county court rooms, judges have alternatives to sending those suffering from mental health and addiction issues to prison. But not all judges and counties are able to use this life changing program. In the current budget, the state funds only a tenth of what is needed to expand TAD statewide. In the alternative I wrote to the Governor’s budget, I showed how to pay for fully expanding the program with the same state dollars by rearranging priorities.

Folks like Frank need treatment, not prison. Our state mental health system is not adequate. As a consequence, law enforcement and prison costs are increasing, as lives are wasted.

For example, the new Secretary of Corrections recently told the Audit Committee seventy percent of Wisconsin inmates suffer from addiction and over eighty percent of women in prison have mental health conditions.

Minnesota has a very different approach to mental health and addiction recovery. Minnesota is called by some the Land of Ten Thousand Treatment Centers. Years ago, the state invested in a community-based mental health and addiction recovery system. Now, with a similar crime rate and similar population, our neighbor to the west has less than half its residents in prison compared to Wisconsin.

The key to helping those with addiction and mental health challenges are community-based resources. For two decades, the state cut or level funded local governments in the “shared revenue” counties and cities received. In addition to facing decreased funding, state officials piled on more requirements with less help.

When the state adds more requirements but no more money, locals describe the combined effect of less money and spending caps as “the vise squeezing counties.”

“Relationships work when they share purpose and responsibility,” a local county health official recently wrote. “The State-County partnership delivering health and human services to Wisconsin residents falls short on many fronts.”

For example, he said, mental health services are coordinated through a system called Comprehensive Community Services. Like the help Frank received, many mental health and addiction recovery services are paid for through Medicaid (MA).

“MA revenues are billed services vulnerable to disallowances [non-payment],” the local official said. “When this occurs, the county provider is responsible for paying funds back.” With mental health care “the State has taken back hundreds of thousands of dollars but refused to provide guidance to counties … the State provides little technical assistance.”

kathleen-vinehoutWe can and must do better. Wisconsin must treat local governments like the full partners they are in delivering needed mental health services. We must invest in expanding services as the state works with locals to find the best path forward.

To address the struggle families face across our state, Wisconsin must take the Medicaid expansion money from the feds, cover 79,000 additional people with healthcare and use the freed-up state dollars - almost $300 million estimated for this budget – to make a down payment on a community-based mental health and addiction recovery system.

Locals should be at the table when decisions are made. Flexibility is important. One-size does not fit all. Incentivizing local creativity would improve service delivery.

People are suffering. But there is hope. Comprehensive treatment can be available – just like in Minnesota. Wisconsin can become the Land of Fifteen-Thousand Treatment Centers. Now is the time to act to solve the problems of mental health and addiction. This saves lives and saves money.

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Walker Plan Does Not Make Up for Cost of Sabotage

Posted by Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Robert Kraig is Executive Director, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, 221 S. 2nd St.,
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on Monday, 30 July 2018
in Wisconsin

affordablecareGovernor now finds it convenient to pretend to care about health care costs, but 7 years of sabotage of the ACA reveals that he has been more than willing to play politics with the lives of Wisconsinites.


STATEWIDE - Governor Scott Walker is touting the approval by the Trump Administration of his complicated health insurance scheme that does not even begin to make up for the cost of ongoing efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

scott-walker-talksWalker’s complicated scheme called “reinsurance” funnels $200 million in direct public subsidies to insurance companies in the hope that they would lower premiums for some consumers. The proposal does not require that health insurance companies pass on any savings to consumers, and even if they did it would only impact a small percentage of Wisconsinites.

Reinsurance will not help anyone who gets insurance at work or small businesses or most people who buy insurance on their own. Although Governor Walker claims it is focused on people who buy insurance on their own, it will not impact 83% of the Wisconsinites who buy health coverage through the ACA marketplace and receive tax subsidies. Reinsurance will not effect deductibles or copays. It will only modestly help the 17% of enrollees who make too much money to be eligible to federal tax credits

Walker’s press release touts a 3.5% reduction in premiums for some Wisconsinites who buy insurance on the ACA marketplace, a much lower number then what was claimed when the proposal was introduced.  But according to the Urban Institute just two of Donald Trump’s acts of sabotage, refusal to enforce the individual mandate and the extension of short term “lemon” health plans will increase premiums by 18.2%.

There are a number of far more effective policy changes that would make health coverage much more affordable if we deployed the full power of state government.

  1. Opening BadgerCare to everyone in Wisconsin as a public option would reduce premiums and deductibles by an average of 38%. It would also help people who buy insurance on their own and small businesses, most of whom cannot afford to provide coverage to their employees.

  2. Reversing Walker’s decision to turn down the Medicaid expansion money in the ACA could reduce premiums by about 7%.

  3. Reversing the Walker Administration's decision in May to continue to allow the sale of substandard “lemon” plans in Wisconsin could reduce premiums by as much as 10%.

In addition, although Walker has decided to tout what he is doing to stabilize the ACA, he approved the filing of a lawsuit by the Wisconsin Attorney General that would strike down the law, taking health care away to nearly 200,000 Wisconsinites.

“Scott Walker now finds it politically convenient in an election year to pretend to care about health care costs, but 7 years of sabotage of the ACA reveals that he has been more than willing to play politics with the lives of Wisconsinites who do not have good coverage at work,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “More corporate subsidies are not the answer. It is a simple truth that only “we the people,” through the agency of our own democratic government, can guarantee health care to everyone in Wisconsin.”

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Happy Birthday, Medicare and Medicaid!

Posted by Patty Schachtner, State Senator 10th District
Patty Schachtner, State Senator 10th District
State Senator Patty Schachtner represents Wisconsin’s tenth senate district. The
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on Friday, 27 July 2018
in Wisconsin

medicare-patientNorthwestern Wisconsin's new Senator Patty Schachtner talks about these crucial health care coverage programs and how we need to expand access to them.


SOMERSET, WI - Medicare and Medicaid will celebrate their 53rd birthday on July 30. Since the programs’ inception, millions of elderly, low-income, and disabled Americans have benefited from crucial health care coverage. This coverage helps individuals afford hospital stays, fill prescription drugs, and access preventative care.

The proposals, packaged together under the Social Security Amendments of 1965, were signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in Independence, Missouri. The concept was simple: people would contribute during their working years and insure themselves against health ailments during old age or poverty.

At the time, more than 18 million Americans were age 65 or older, and about a third of all seniors lived in poverty. Many seniors feared that medical expenses would wipe out saving and limited incomes, and almost half of Americans aged 65 and older had no health insurance.

During the bill signing, President Johnson detested the “injustice which denies the miracle of healing to the old and to the poor.” The 1965 proposals were to end this perceived injustice, and strengthen the health and economic status of millions of vulnerable Americans.

patty-schachtnerBy the end of 1966, 24 million Americans were insured by Medicare and Medicaid. The programs marked an era of healthier communities and increased financial independence. Just ten years after the 1965 Act, Medicare and Medicaid helped cut the poverty rate among seniors by 47.4 percent.

Despite the success of the programs, federal and state officials have sought to reduce access to health care coverage. The House Republican budget offered this June would cut funding for Medicare by $537 billion. It would also shuffle Medicare enrollees toward a “voucher system” to purchase private insurance. Medicaid and other affiliated programs would be cut by $1.5 trillion, and recipients would have to jump through new bureaucratic barriers.

At the state level, a refusal to expand Medicaid – as 32 states have already done – has cost state taxpayers $190 million a year, $1.07 billion in total, all while covering fewer individuals. This is in addition to Governor Walker’s 2013 decision to reduce income eligibility limits for Medicaid, which resulted in 63,000 Wisconsinites losing their Medicaid coverage.

Instead of making it harder for individuals to receive health care – and live independent lives – we need to expand access to it. That means protecting Medicare and Medicaid this birthday and beyond.

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Democratic Radio "Just Fix It"

Posted by Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Dist 32 (B)
Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Dist 32 (B)
Jennifer Shilling lives in La Crosse with her husband and two children. She curr
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on Thursday, 26 July 2018
in Wisconsin

road-constructionCrumbling roads, deteriorating highways and structurally unsafe bridges have created headaches for Wisconsin drivers.


MADISON, WI – Senator Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) offered the weekly Democratic radio address today.

The audio file of this week’s address can be found here.

A written transcript of the address is below:

jennifer-shilling“Hi, I’m State Senator Jennifer Shilling with this week’s Democratic Radio Address.

“As the summer travel season continues, so have the headaches for Wisconsin drivers.

“Crumbling roads, deteriorating highways and structurally unsafe bridges have created a dangerous situation.

“After eight years of Republican budgeting, Wisconsin has over 2,800 bridges that need repairs and our roads are among the worst in the nation.

“Even the Republican chair of the state’s budget committee admitted that “The roads in Illinois are better than in Wisconsin.”

“Rather than delaying projects and laying off workers, Democrats are pushing to prioritize community safety and expand economic opportunities across our state.

“We’re proud to stand with the overwhelming majority of Wisconsin workers, families and businesses who want a responsible, long-term funding solution to repair our crumbling roads and improve transportation safety.

“If you’ve noticed how bad our roads have become, then you know it’s time to #JustFixIt and build toward a brighter future.

“Thank you.”

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Kimberly-Clark Bailout Plan Questioned

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
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on Thursday, 26 July 2018
in Wisconsin

kc-layoff-wbayAfter management wrestles $20,000 pay cuts from workers, Green Bay's Senator Dave Hansen doubts company's sincerity in fulfilling their part of the $115 million bailout deal.


GREEN BAY, WI - Back in January, Kimberly-Clark Corporation (KC) of Neenah announced it was considering closing two manufacturing facilities in the Fox Valley. These included the Neenah Nonwovens Facility, within the next 18 months, and the Cold Spring Facility in Fox Crossing after consultation and negotiation with the plant's labor stakeholders.

According to Kimberly-Clark, the whole thing would result in at least 600 people being cut around here. Given the $4.5 billion state incentive package then being heaped upon Foxconn, local politicians quickly asked for something to be done in Madison to save these jobs.

The Assembly passed a tax break package for KC 56-37 in February and sent it to the state Senate where it stalled. Many in the Senate balked at the cost. The tax credit on jobs alone would cost the state between $100 million and $115 million over the 15 years, or over $191,000 per job saved, and the company itself was noncommittal on whether the tax breaks would even entice them to reverse their decision.

After it ratified a new labor agreement Monday night with it's labor stakeholders (United Steelworkers), KC now says it would consider the tax incentives to keep Fox Crossing plant open. Unfortunately, union sources say the new pact would cut workers pay by more than $20,000 per person.

dave-hansen-gb“While I am pleased to hear that there is an opportunity to avoid the closure of Kimberly-Clark’s Cold Spring and Neenah Nonwovens facilities I still have serious concerns," says Green Bay Sen. Dave Hansen in a statement released Wednesday. “At a time when there is a worker shortage and the Legislature is offering over $100 million to Kimberly-Clark to keep the mills open it is deeply disappointing that K-C’s precondition for accepting such a generous offer from the taxpayers is to force their workers to accept deep cuts to their pay and benefits."

Hansen, at least, is one senator who still doubts KC's sincerity in fulfilling their part of the bailout deal.

“Under the bill introduced earlier by Senator Roth," (Sen. Roger Roth, R-Appleton) "there is no guarantee in place for how long the mills will stay open and Kimberly-Clark could lay off as much as 7% of their workers and still receive the taxpayer funded subsidies," said Hansen. "Nor are there any protections for workers at K-C’s mill in Marinette."

The Green Bay Senator also feels the Roth bill falls short in that it fails to address challenges faced by the state’s paper industry as a whole.

“When the deal with Foxconn was voted on I joined a number of my Democratic colleagues warning that Republicans and the Governor were opening the door for other businesses to ask for similar treatment," Hansen concludes. "If this Foxconn-style bailout is approved for Kimberly-Clark how many more businesses will be stepping forward looking for a handout from the taxpayers?”

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