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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

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Survey: Overwhelming majority of Wisconsinites worried about healthcare affordability

What the growing affordability crisis means for healthcare access and how a Democratic state lawmaker hopes to solve it.

A survey released Monday found an overwhelming majority of Wisconsinites are worried about affording future healthcare costs, pointing to a growing healthcare affordability crisis in the state. 

Community and labor coalition Citizen Action of Wisconsin released the results at a press conference Monday afternoon. The Wisconsin Consumer Healthcare Experience State Survey, conducted with the help of Altarum Healthcare Value Hub, found 81% of Wisconsinites worry they’ll be unable to afford an array of healthcare costs ranging from elder care expenses to treating serious, unforeseen illness.

The survey also found nearly three in five Wisconsinites experienced one or more healthcare affordability burdens in the past year.

While barriers such as getting time off from work, transportation and lack of child care contributed to health burdens, healthcare costs remained the most frequently-cited concern. Just over half of respondents reported skipping needed care or tests, delaying appointments or rationing medication. 

“There [are] extreme affordability issues in Wisconsin,” said Executive Director of Citizen Action Robert Kraig. “Folks are avoiding care, people are facing financial challenges when they get care and people are having difficulty even navigating how much a particular procedure is going to cost them, given the lack of transparency in hospital billing and the insurance claims process.”

For uninsured respondents, nearly half cited insurance being “too expensive” as their primary reason for lack of coverage. Of those who did manage to receive care, 39% struggled to pay the associated costs, resulting in depleted household savings, maxed out credit cards and forgoing key necessities such as food, heat and housing payments.

One respondent, a Medicaid recipient, reported missing their medication “all the time” because they couldn’t afford out-of-pocket expenses for prescriptions not covered under Medicaid. 

Another respondent, this time on private insurance, expressed concern over their plan’s lack of dental coverage. “I need caps over my front teeth, but my insurance will not cover anything dental besides cleaning, extractions and fillings,” they wrote in the survey.

Kraig accused Wisconsin lawmakers of failing to tackle the state’s developing health crisis despite high rates of concern.

“The survey data should be a wake up call to state policy lawmakers who have not prioritized reforms that would slow the healthcare cost crisis gripping Wisconsin,” Kraig said.

However, Democratic state lawmakers, including Rep. Kristina Shelton (D-Green Bay), are trying to change that.

Shelton and some of her Democratic colleagues plan to reintroduce the BadgerCare Public Option Act, a bill which aims to establish a cheaper, more-comprehensive public insurance option through BadgerCare for all Wisconsinites regardless of income.

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“The results of this survey continue to validate what we know, people tell us everyday, and what we personally experience,” Shelton said during Monday’s press conference. “We have to remember that these are real stories of what people are facing everyday and this is on top of what working families are already experiencing.”

The bill also looks to build on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by establishing a new, state-level online insurance marketplace, an ACA “basic health plan” for individuals without children making 133-200% of the federal poverty line. It would also allow small businesses to purchase health coverage at more affordable rates through the state marketplace.

“[The bill] moves away from a healthcare system that’s driven by profit and instead it prioritizes the health and wellness of working Wisconsinites,” Shelton said. “My office is going to fight like hell for this.”

While the lowest income levels in society face the steepest hurdles to care, high costs are felt by a majority of respondents across all income levels. Of respondents with annual household incomes below $75,000, 62% reported a healthcare affordability burden, and for those above the $75,000 line, at least 52% still experienced one or more burdens to care.

In addition, rural, non-white, Hispanic and disabled respondents across all income levels reported higher rates of cost-related burdens.

Still, 70% of respondents said the healthcare system must change. When asked to diagnose the system’s problems, they focused on price-gouging from pharmaceutical companies, hospitals and private insurance.

“The healthcare system is built to serve wealthy CEOs, drug companies and insurance companies who are making money off this profit model and off of our sickness,” Shelton said. “Too many of us, including everyday working families, are falling between the cracks.”

Shelton plans to reintroduce the bill this fall with renewed momentum surrounding healthcare costs.

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Nick Bumgardner

Nick Bumgardner is a staff writer with The Daily Cardinal covering state news and politics. You can follow him on Twitter at @nickbum_.

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