A decision by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) to make changes to state health care programs in Southeast Wisconsin could adversely impact the local economy, affecting hundreds of jobs in Milwaukee.
DHS announced in late July that they would terminate contracts with private companies involved in the BadgerCare and Medicaid programs effective at the beginning of 2010. Currently, nearly a quarter million people are enrolled in Badger- Care in Southeast Wisconsin.
The department has issued a new request for proposals (RFP) from health care firms, with new contracts expected to be in place by the fall of 2010. These changes are only being made in Southeast Wisconsin and in no other part of the state.
DHS Secretary Karen Timberlake has said the changes are planned as part of ongoing efforts to trim $625 million – or 3% – from the state’s budget.
But those changes could mean job losses for hundreds of Milwaukee residents.
Because current BadgerCare providers may lose their contracts under the proposed change, many members of their staff and in supporting services would likely end up being laid off, according to sources with knowledge of the industry.
In addition, the structure of the RFP is such that significant rate reductions could cause some HMOs to not take on as many members as they once did, resulting in additional job losses for nurses, customer care representatives, and other positions in local health care firms.
There are currently seven firms in the greater Milwaukee area under contract for the BadgerCare program – employing several hundred people in the local area. All seven firms are at risk of potentially losing their contracts and having to lay off their entire workforces.
These potential job losses come at a hard time for the local economy as many large companies, manufacturers and Milwaukee County have laid off workers in the last year, disproportionally effecting the African American community. Additionally, questions are being raised about why the state would take actions that will result in massive layoffs at the same time the federal government is trying to spend state federal stimulus funds to try to keep people employed.
The proposed change by DHS has come under heavy fire because of potential disruptions to health care coverage for Milwaukee residents. Those currently enrolled in the Badger- Care program will be contacted by the state to select a new health care provider once new firms have been selected by the state. However, if those citizens are unable to be reached, the lowest cost provider will automatically be selected for them.
NAACP Milwaukee Branch president Jerry Ann Hamilton raised concerns about the process in an open letter to Governor Doyle last month, suggesting that the change could cause many African Americans to lose “their personal doctors, causing substantial disruptions to their health care.”
Concerns have also been raised by State Senators Spencer Coggs and Lena Taylor, as well as State Representatives Leon Young and Barbara Toles, amongst others.