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Budget woes may cause health insurance hardships in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania

Maryalene LaPonsie | February 23, 2011

Even as economists assure us the recession has long since ended, consumers and states alike continue to feel the pinch in their pocketbooks. Government budgets that used to roll in pork are now cut to the bone. In Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, more than 100,000 people are living with the reality that their family health insurance may be a thing of the past.

Health insurance targeted in Wisconsin

The biggest current political drama in the nation is being played out in Madison, Wis. as opponents lined up against proposals of the newly elected Gov. Scott Walker. Democratic members of the Wisconsin Legislature fled the state earlier in the month to prevent a vote on legislation to change collective bargaining practices. Thousands flocked to the state capital to protest that proposal, and now a new battle is brewing over a budget repair bill.

Gov. Walker has proposed a budget repair bill that could mean fewer medical insurance options for residents of the Badger State. Under the administration of former Gov. Jim Doyle in 2009, the state's Medicaid program was expanded to include childless individuals who earn up to 200 percent of the federal poverty limit, approximately $21,780 annually for one person, according to an Eau Claire Leader-Telegram report.

Now, the governor's office is proposing to roll back the eligibility to 133 percent of the federal poverty limit, approximately $14,484 annually for one person, which is the level slated for implementation nationwide in 2014 as part of federal health reform. If approved by lawmakers, the change could save the state an estimated $50 million to $80 million a year. However, it will also cost 60,000 residents their health insurance.

PA medical insurance plan scheduled to end

While the situation in Wisconsin remains unresolved at this time, there is no uncertainty in Pennsylvania. Approximately 43,000 individuals have already been notified by the state that it is time to find new family health insurance. On Feb. 28, funding for the adultBasic (aB) health plan runs out, according to a Kaiser Health News report.

Those enrolled in the program received notification from the state earlier this month that funding for the aB health plan, provided by a combination of tobacco settlement money and donations from the state's Blue Cross Blue Shield affiliates, would run dry. The letter announcing the end of the program encouraged enrollees to "act quickly" to find new medical coverage.

The aB plan offered basic benefits that included preventive care, hospitalization and outpatient services. It was open to uninsured adults earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty limit. Now those individuals are being encouraged to explore other options such as Medicaid, Medicare and community health care programs. Arrangements are also being made to allow individuals with pre-existing conditions to enroll in Pennsylvania Blue Cross and Blue Shield's SpecialCare health plan.

With many states just gearing up for their annual budget battle, don't be surprised if other governments follow suit. As lawmakers work to balance the books, public health insurance programs for low-income individuals are often easy targets. Until 2014 when health insurance exchanges and federal subsidies become available, it could be a bumpy ride for those in the working class who are searching for family health insurance.

Tags : medicaid, family health insurance

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