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WisBusiness: Cap on BadgerCare Core Plan forces `feverish' work on alternative

By Tracy Will
For WisBusiness.com

MADISON -- With BadgerCare’s core program being capped at week's end, Wisconsin officials are “feverishly” working on an alternative to handle an expected waiting list of 20,000, a top state health officer said at a Thursday forum.

“The wait list is going to grow to the tens of thousands by spring. We’re getting about 500 applications a day. The governor has directed the department to develop another plan that will be more bare bones, but trying to provide for this group that was formerly nameless, now we have a group of about 20,000 we know want health insurance,” said Dr. Jonathan Jaffery, chief medical officer of Wisconsin Medicaid and BadgerCare.

Jaffery said there was criticism coming from around the state about expanding the program.

"The governor is committed to expand this even now when there is so much additional need,” he said.

Gov. Jim Doyle’s announcement Monday to cap enrollment was intended to comply with the federal waiver that enabled Wisconsin to expand BadgerCare to unmarried adults.

“With the plan to cap the core plan, those who are signed up will be wait-listed as of Friday afternoon, and we are getting hundreds of applications every day,” Jaffery said. The Department of Health Services has 45 days to complete the new version.

“We are working feverishly right now to do just that,” he said.

Jaffery’s comments came at Capitol forum on health care reform projects underway among several Wisconsin state agencies, including the Wisconsin Health Information Organization, the Wisconsin Trust Fund, and the state Medicaid and BadgerCare programs.

Lisa Ellinger of the Department of Employee Trust Funds reported how her agency actively encourages several state health insurers to offer comparable levels of care at the best possible rates.

“We can’t control everything and we have tried to put incentives in place to measure the health care cost,” Ellinger said acknowledging that legislated coverage for autism, cochlear implants and federal changes raised premiums just this year.

“We have to react to things that come our way. We make pretty significant effort to steer members to tier-one plans,” Ellinger said.

Julie Bartels of the Wisconsin Health Information Organization said a review of health insurance costs from providers reporting how much it cost to cover their members showed a high degree of waste in the system.

“In a sense that we know that there is waste in the system. ... At least we know where to start,” to cut health insurance costs, Bartels said.

Panelists argued that these different approaches to health care cost reform were potential national models, and visiting University of British Columbia health economist Stirling Bryan agreed.

“Five years ago, it seemed health economists in the states were unwilling to look at the costs of health care and the health outcome of patients. Now I return here five years later and I see the things you are doing, which are very good things,” Bryan said.

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