By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
In 2014, while under private insurance, Mary Wacker broke a small bone in her foot. She paid $800 for a specialist to look at her foot for 15 minutes and recommend that she’d wear a boot. Over the next year, Wacker, a Wisconsin resident who shared her story during a roundtable discussion, experienced pain in her knee and hip.
“By the time I qualified for Medicare in 2015, I was walking with a cane,” said Wacker, who ended up getting her hip replaced. “I know without that hip replacement I’d be in a wheelchair today.”
She continued, “My out-of-pocket costs pre-Medicare would have been over $85,000. My cost to me for the Medicare surgery was $195.”
Earlier this week, Citizen Action of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans held a virtual roundtable to celebrate the 56th anniversary of Medicare and to discuss drug prices and how Medicare can be improved. The roundtable featured Congresswoman Gwen Moore and Sen. LaTonya Johnson.
“Medicare has been a game changer for seniors and people with disabilities,” Moore said. “It has provided 55 million Americans coverage for diabetes screenings, hospital visits, prescription drugs or additives of benefits. It’s a life changing benefit for many of our seniors and disabled communities.”
Medicare needs to continue to be enhanced to close coverage gaps, she said. It’s not just the physical body that needs care, but the mind too, Moore said, adding that as people age, their eyes, ears and teeth need to be treated well.
If someone has poor dental health, it can impact other aspects of their health such as their heart, she said.
“It just really doesn’t make sense not only from a health perspective but from a financial perspective to not have dental care in the formulary for Medicare,” she said, adding, “We need to extend Medicare coverage to include dental, vision and hearing care. And I support legislation that would do just this.”
It is time to reign in big pharma, Moore said. She voiced her support for H.R. 3 – the Elijah Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act. This would allow Medicare to negotiate for lower drug costs, she explained.
Johnson, who represents District 6 in Wisconsin’s State Senate, explained that if BadgerCare had been expanded, Wisconsin would have seen the benefits. It would have saved Wisconsin $1.6 billion over two years and lifted individuals and families out of poverty, she said.
“Instead of that money coming back to Wisconsin taxpayers, that money will now go to other states to help their uninsured constituents and save lives in other states rather than being here in Wisconsin,” she said.
When Gov. Tony Evers proposed the expansion, he included post-partum eligibility expansion, Johnson said. This expansion would have given mothers a full year of coverage under BadgerCare, but Republicans changed it to 90 days.
“Wisconsin has consistently ranked one of the worst places for infant mortality,” Johnson said. “Especially when you look at Black mothers compared to white births. African American women are five times more likely to die in childbirth to complications than their white counterparts. This is something, expanding BadgerCare, we could have used those dollars to help remedy that situation.”
Johnson also talked about the disparities between Black and whites when it comes to deaths, sexually transmitted diseases, infant mortality rates and more.
“There were definitely opportunities there for our communities of color in particularly African American communities to have benefited from the expansion of BadgerCare,” she said. “We can’t continue to see these statistics and not think that more has to be done to help mediate a lot of these disparities.”
As Medicare celebrates its 56th anniversary, elected officials continue to look at ways it can improved and expanded.
“Every American, no matter what their income or age, should have what I regard as a right of citizenship and that is to be healthy,” Moore said.