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Group worries about looming ‘Medicaid crisis’

Legislature debates how to best fix $401 million funding shortfall

MADISON — Thousands of jobs and services for the elderly, disabled and poor are at risk unless the Legislature and Gov. Jim Doyle can agree on a plan to fix a $401 million Medicaid funding shortfall, advocacy group representatives said Tuesday.

They called on legislative leaders to endorse a plan by the Doyle administration to refinance debt and secure an additional $350 million through the end of the state’s two-year budget in mid-2005.

State Administration Secretary Marc Marotta has urged lawmakers to approve the plan this week.

“I believe we are on the brink of a Medicaid crisis in Wisconsin, the likes of which we have not seen before,” said Lynn Breedlove, director of the Wisconsin Coalition for Advocacy.

Breedlove called the refinancing plan the only viable one that’s been proposed.

But Republican lawmakers have balked at the plan, saying it would saddle taxpayers with more costs down the road without making a true fix to the state’s budget.

Steve Baas, aide to Assembly Speaker John Gard, R-Peshtigo, accused Doyle, a Democrat, of not seriously seeking spending reductions elsewhere and instead using seniors, the disabled and other Medicaid recipients as pawns by using an either-or approach with the debt refinancing plan.

“You don’t run up the state’s credit card to solve the budget deficit,” Baas said. “It’s not a fiscally responsible thing to do.”

But Doyle spokesman Dan Leistikow accused GOP legislative leaders of rejecting viable proposals such as the debt refinancing and a previous proposal to tap the state Patients Compensation Fund.

“It’s Republicans who are risking serious cuts in services by rejecting every attempt by the governor to fix the problem, and not offering solutions of their own,” he said. “This governor has stood up again and again to protect health care in this state.”

Jon Peacock, director of the Wisconsin Budget Project, a Wisconsin Council on Children and Families initiative, said the $401 million would leverage an additional $561 million in federal Medicaid dollars, meaning the state stands to lose almost $1 billion, representing about one-fourth of the state’s Medicaid budget for 2004-05.

A cut that large could mean the loss of 22,000 health-care jobs, $1 billion in lost wages and income and $76 million in lost state and local taxes, he said.

“It’s that big,” Peacock said.

One in seven Wisconsin residents are served through Medicaid, the SeniorCare prescription drug program and BadgerCare, the state’s health-insurance program for the working poor, Peacock said.

One of those residents, Barbara Vedder of Madison, said she relies on Medicaid services to help her lead an active live.

“This for me is a no-brainer,” said Vedder, 53, who became a quadriplegic following a spinal-cord injury 22 years ago. “Something has to be fixed.”

Baas said Republican lawmakers would step in to solve the problem if Doyle “takes a pass,” but he did not elaborate on what they would consider.

“We have a pretty strong record of protecting our seniors and vulnerable citizens, and I don’t think anything will happen to change that record,” he said.

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