Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed state budget contains an unfortunate surprise for pregnant women in Wisconsin. I’m personally alarmed by this as a women’s health advocate and as someone who recently gave birth to my second child.
The governor’s budget bill contains a provision that would end BadgerCare coverage of pregnant women with incomes over 133% of the federal poverty level – which for an individual is as little as $15,000 a year and for a two-person household is about $20,000 a year. Let’s celebrate this Mother’s Day and National Women’s Health Week by removing this unintended, ill-considered change from the budget.
The governor and officials in the Wisconsin Department of Health Services have stated that making this group of pregnant women ineligible for BadgerCare was included in the budget unintentionally and that the mistake would inevitably be fixed. Yet despite the budget being introduced in February, the damaging language in the bill remains even after the correction of other errors. It will remain there unless legislative leaders take action to remove it, and sadly there is no assurance that they will do so.
We simply can’t risk making it harder for pregnant women to get prenatal and postnatal care. And since Walker maintains the proposal was inadvertent, it’s crucial that lawmakers reverse this ill-advised change as soon as possible.
As currently written, the governor’s budget bill would make these pregnant women making as little as $15,000 a year only eligible for a limited benefit plan called BadgerCare + Prenatal (BC+ Prenatal). Unfortunately, this BC+ Prenatal program relies on fee-for-service care, which is generally more expensive for the state, and women in some areas of Wisconsin would have trouble finding an obstetrician who will take new Medicaid patients under this plan.
BC+ Prenatal has several other shortcomings. It has a slower eligibility determination process, which could prevent women from receiving timely prenatal care. It also causes problems with continuous eligibility since BC+ Prenatal coverage can end any time a woman’s circumstances change, leaving her without health insurance during a portion of her pregnancy. Alternatively, under BadgerCare Plus, a woman is covered throughout her entire pregnancy. The list of shortcoming with BC+ Prenatal goes on and the costs go up – both in health outcomes and associated pregnancy-related medical costs.
The prenatal care a woman receives is one of the most important factors in the health of her child. We should be thinking of ways for more pregnant women to gain access to health care services, not creating barriers that will result in fewer women seeing a doctor during pregnancy.
We take Walker at his word that this change to pregnant women coverage in our state was not intentional. But to date, he and his administration have failed to remedy the mistake, and he now has left the task of fixing his mistake in the hands of our legislators, who may not all appreciate the implications of restricting access to prenatal care. Are we willing to allow even a single preventable miscarriage or preventable premature birth to take place because of what was apparently a communications error in submitting the budget instructions?
State budget bills are large, complicated documents, bound to contain a few glitches. As we celebrate Mother’s Day and National Women’s Health Week, let’s give Wisconsin women like me a very simple but important gift: access to the critical prenatal care we need and deserve.
Our children can’t give this gift to us, but state legislators can and should. It’s time our leaders correct this glitch that could threaten the life and health of a mother’s future child and herself.
Sara Finger is executive director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health.