- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 21, 2017

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The top health official in Wisconsin said Tuesday she doesn’t know how many people may lose health insurance in the state under the fast-moving House Republican health care overhaul bill, even as nationwide estimates project 24 million people will go without in a decade.

Wisconsin Department of Health Services Secretary Linda Seemeyer said at a forum hosted by Wisconsin Health News that estimating how many people may lose insurance under the GOP plan was “not my bailiwick.”

“I don’t think anybody knows at this point how many would gain or lose coverage,” Seemeyer said. “It’s a tough question to answer and I don’t have it.”

Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s administration has been working since last week on its own breakdown of what the proposal would mean to the state and the 242,000 people who purchase federally subsidized private insurance through the marketplace. That analysis was still being finalized, said DHS spokeswoman Julie Lund.

A nonpartisan congressional analysis projected the measure would strip coverage from 24 million people in a decade, but it did not break out numbers by state.

Democratic staff members of the Joint Economic Committee in Congress released a 50-state study of the bill last week that determined more than 129,000 people in Wisconsin would lose their health insurance next year - purchased either through their employer or the private marketplace - under the GOP overhaul.

The liberal Center for American Progress estimated that more than 894,000 people in Wisconsin will lose insurance by 2026 under the bill.

About 85 percent of Wisconsin residents who purchase their insurance through the private marketplace established under the current law receive subsidies based on their income and where they live, making them vulnerable to reductions in federal assistance.

Those subsidies are more significant in Wisconsin than some other states because Walker rejected federal money to help pay for expanding Medicaid and instead relied on the subsidies to help people afford insurance in the private marketplace.

The new GOP bill would base the tax breaks on age rather than income and the cost of insurance in the area where the person lives. Several analyses indicate that reductions in federal subsidies would force higher rates for Wisconsin residents buying private insurance, particularly older people and those in rural areas.

Dr. Cynthia Haq, a professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, called the GOP health plan “outrageous.”

“Its effects will be devastating to the people of Wisconsin,” she said on a Tuesday conference call organized by the liberal health care advocacy group Citizen Action.

The group released a report showing that in most parts of the state a low-income senior not yet eligible for Medicare would pay over $10,000 more a year to buy insurance through the marketplace compared to now.

A separate Associated Press analysis looked at the impact of the proposal in all 50 states on older people who are not yet eligible for Medicare. The GOP plan as introduced would shrink the tax credits people age 50-64 use to help buy insurance and it would increase their premiums because insurers could charge more as people age and become more susceptible to health problems.

The AP analysis of data from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that a 60-year-old person in Wisconsin earning $30,000 a year would have to pay $4,640 more per year for coverage than they do now. That same person making just $20,000 a year would have to spend $6,160 more, according to the AP study.

Walker told reporters on Monday that he believed the replacement to the Affordable Care Act, championed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, was “moving in the right direction” by improving benefits for older people. But Walker didn’t specifically say how he hoped those tax credits would be altered.

Ryan unveiled changes late Monday to lower the costs for older people by allowing the Senate, if it chooses, to make tax credits more generous for that age group. And President Donald Trump on Tuesday met privately with House Republicans to urge their backing.

Wisconsin Democrats have been united against the measure, which would also cut open-ended federal payments to help states cover Medicaid costs. A group of 48 state Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Wisconsin’s congressional delegation urging them to make changes to the bill so fewer people would lose insurance.


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP . His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-bauer .

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