Religious leaders rebuke state for ‘Scrooge’ delay

State government’s decision to delay Medicaid coverage for 83,000 childless adults has drawn a gentle rebuke from Wisconsin religious leaders.

The delay is part of the Walker administration health-care package of temporary changes to meet the confusion of snarls flowing from the introduction of Obamacare. The package included maintaining eligibility for Medicaid, BadgerCare Plus and highrisk insurance for three months.

Left out were the 83,000 who would be eligible for Medicaid next spring. The religious leaders – representing the Wisconsin Council of Churches, the Wisconsin Jewish Conference and the Wisconsin Catholic Church – said these persons also need a safety net now.

“Many of these 83,000 are working. Others are elderly and have worked for much of their lives. Still others cope courageously with disabilities that prevent them from working,” the religious leaders said in a letter to legislators.

“A policy decision to include them in health-care coverage does not foster their dependency. Rather it reaffirms our state’s commitment to social justice,” the letter continued. It was drafted just days after Thanksgiving.

“Just five days ago, we Americans celebrated as one to thank our Creator for the blessings and material abundance He has bestowed upon us. It is incongruous that we would not enact a policy that leaves so many of our poor brothers sand sisters outside the door of affordable health care.

“We all should reflect on whether history will regard this as an act of a grateful and generous community,” they said.

Signing the letter were the Rev. Scott Anderson of the Council of Churches, Michael Blumenfeld, head of the Jewish Conference, and John Huebscher of the Catholic Conference.

“Just last week Pope Francis observed that the world’s poor are still waiting for the benefits of an economic system that is supposed to pass wealth down to them,” the letter noted. “We should not ask 83,000 of our brothers and sisters to wait three more months for access to a good so critical to their well-being during the coldest part of the year.”

Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee and in the Assembly majority were unmoved by the plea. The committee and the Assembly quickly approved the Walker plan. The Republican Senate had scheduled a vote later in December, and it, too, was expected to approve the Walker plan.

The mention of dependency seems to go to Walker’s comments that people should not be dependent on government. The governor has rejected provisions in the Obamacare law that would provide additional federal money for expanded Medicaid coverage. Republican governors in Michigan and Ohio have accepted the additional federal money.

Walker said he is worried that the federal government won’t be able to sustain providing federal funds for an expanded Medicaid. The governor has been touring the country giving speeches to Republican and Tea Party groups with language that sounds like he would like to run for president in 2016.

His decisions on health care are expected to be a key issue in next year’s gubernatorial campaign. Mary Burke, currently the only announced Democrat running for governor, has said she would accept the additional federal Medicaid money.

Not so many decades ago one of Wisconsin’s big political issues was the amount of federal money flowing into the state. Politicians would suggest they could do better than their opponents. Now Walker, who has turned down the federal money, is ahead in the political polling for 2016.

Yet the three-month delay at the holidays seems Scrooge-like.

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