Battleground Wisconsin: Voters Really feel Nickel-and-Dimed by Health Care Prices

Dancing at Birnamwood Polka Days, a competition in Birnamwood, Wisconsin.(Angela Hart/KFF Health News)Polka festivals are widespread throughout Wisconsin, particularly within the summertime.(Angela Hart/KFF Health News)At Birnamwood Polka Days, candidates for native and state workplace typically mingle with voters.(Angela Hart/KFF Health News)

BIRNAMWOOD, Wis. — The land of fried cheese curds and the Green Bay Packers is amongst a half-dozen battleground states that would decide the result of the anticipated November rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump — a contest wherein the cost and availability of health care are rising as defining points.

At church picnics and summertime polka festivals that draw voters of all political stripes, Wisconsinites stated they’re struggling to pay for even essentially the most primary well being care, from widespread blood checks to insulin prescriptions. A proposal by Wisconsin’s Democratic governor to broaden the state’s Medicaid program to 1000’s of low-income residents has turn into a partisan lightning rod within the affordability debate: Democrats need it; Republicans don’t.

In 2020, voters right here gave Biden, a Democrat, a slender win after favoring Trump, a Republican, in 2016. Recent polling signifies that the 2 rivals have been neck and neck on this yr’s race. They have been scheduled to sq. off tonight within the first televised debate of the marketing campaign.

Many Wisconsin voters nonetheless can’t work out whom to vote for — or whether or not to vote in any respect.

“I know he’s trying to improve health care and inflation, but I’m not happy with Biden,” stated Bob Prelipp, 79, a Republican who lives in Birnamwood, a village of about 700 individuals in rural central Wisconsin. He reluctantly voted for Biden in 2020, after voting for Trump in 2016.

Bob Prelipp voted for Donald Trump in 2016, switched to Joe Biden in 2020, and is undecided about whom to vote for this yr. “I know he’s trying to improve health care and inflation, but I’m not happy with Biden,” stated Prelipp, a resident of Birnamwood, Wisconsin.(Angela Hart/KFF Health News)

Prelipp was serving beer on the Birnamwood Polka Days competition on a muggy June day. Pro-Trump hats peppered the gang, and in opposition to the backdrop of cheerful polka tunes, peppy dancing, and the candy odor of freshly minimize hay, candidates for native and state workplace mingled with voters.

This rural a part of the state is ruby red. Trump flags fly over the panorama and companies proudly show pro-Trump paraphernalia. Biden supporters are extra seen and vocal within the Wisconsin inhabitants facilities of Madison, the capital, and Milwaukee.

In 2020, voters right here gave Biden, a Democrat, a slender win after favoring Trump, a Republican, in 2016. Recent polling signifies that the 2 rivals have been neck and neck on this yr’s race.(Angela Hart/KFF Health News)

Biden “needs to get prices down. Everything is getting so unaffordable, even health care,” stated Prelipp, a Vietnam War veteran who stated his federal well being take care of veterans has improved markedly below Biden, together with wait instances for appointments. Yet he stated he can’t abdomen the thought of voting for him once more, or for Trump, who has disparaged military veterans.

Prelipp stated persons are feeling nickel-and-dimed, not solely on the grocery retailer and fuel pump, but in addition at docs’ places of work and hospitals.

Greg Laabs, a musician in one of many polka bands at Birnamwood, displayed a pro-Trump sticker on his tuba. He stated he likes his federal Medicare well being protection however worries that if Biden is reelected Democrats will present publicly sponsored well being care to immigrants missing authorized residency.

“There are thousands of people coming across the border,” stated Laabs, 71. He famous that each Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris endorsed providing public health care to immigrants with out authorized residency as presidential candidates in 2019, a place that Harris’ house state of California has enthusiastically embraced. “We cannot support the whole world,” Laabs stated.

Greg Laabs, a musician enjoying at Birnamwood Polka Days, has a Trump sticker on his tuba. Laabs says he fears a Democratic president would supply publicly sponsored well being care to immigrants with out authorized residency. “There are thousands of people coming across the border,” he says. “We cannot support the whole world.” (Angela Hart/KFF Health News)

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The two primary political events will choose presidential nominees at their nationwide conventions, and Biden and Trump are broadly anticipated to be their selections. Republicans will collect in Milwaukee in July. Democrats will convene in Chicago in August.

Biden is trying to make well being care a key subject forward of the Nov. 5 election, arguing that he has slashed the cost of some prescription drugs, lowered health insurance premiums, and helped get more Americans covered below the Affordable Care Act, often known as Obamacare. He has additionally been a robust supporter of reproductive rights and entry to abortion, notably for the reason that U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade two years in the past.

“The choice is clear: President Biden will protect our health care,” claims one of Biden’s campaign commercials.

Trump has stated he desires to repeal Obamacare, regardless of multiple failed Republican makes an attempt to take action over a number of years. “The cost of Obamacare is out of control,” Trump wrote last year. “I’m seriously looking at alternatives.”

Beth Gehred, a Democrat who lives in Ashland County in northern Wisconsin, says rural communities want higher entry to well being care, and he or she believes President Joe Biden is engaged on it. However, she says she is extra anxious in regards to the state of democracy within the United States. “I know a lot of people on the fence right now between Trump and Biden,” she says. “People need to vote.”(Angela Hart/KFF Health News)Ron and Marie Knight personal Knight’s Bar within the small city of Elderon, Wisconsin. They assist former President Donald Trump, and even gave free cocktails to residents who voted for him in 2020. The subject of well being care is essential to them, they are saying, however the financial system is their greatest concern.(Angela Hart/KFF Health News)“We live on our credit cards and we max them out every month,” says Veronica St. Clair. Her husband, Robert St. Clair, is a army veteran and says he desires to see the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs privatized. “Then maybe I wouldn’t have to fight with the VA to get medical treatment,” he says.(Angela Hart/KFF Health News)

Even Democrats who again Biden say the president should make it simpler and cheaper to get medical care.

“I signed up for one of the Obamacare plans and got my cholesterol and blood sugar tested and it was like $500,” stated Mary Vils, 63, a Democrat who lives in Portage County in central Wisconsin.

She strongly helps Biden however stated persons are feeling squeezed. “We’re fortunate because we had some savings, but that’s a lot of money out-of-pocket.”

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, stated he understands “the frustration that people have.”

Evers has repeatedly tried to broaden Medicaid to low-income adults who don’t have kids, which all but 10 states have completed for the reason that enactment of Obamacare in 2010. The state’s Republican-controlled legislature has repeatedly blocked his efforts, but Evers is attempting once more. Expanding Medicaid would supply protection to nearly 90,000 low-income people, in line with his administration.

Evers, who helps Biden, has argued that increasing Medicaid would herald $2 billion in federal funding that will assist reimburse hospitals and insurers for uncompensated care, and in the end “make health care more affordable.”

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers shakes fingers with President Joe Biden after he arrives at Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport on May 8.(Mandel Ngan/AFP through Getty Images)

Many states which have expanded Medicaid have realized savings in well being care spending whereas offering protection to extra individuals, in line with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a suppose tank primarily based in Washington, D.C.

“We have to get the Medicaid expansion money,” Evers advised KFF Health News. “That would solve a lot of problems.”

Biden’s marketing campaign is opening field offices in Wisconsin, and he and federal well being care officers make frequent visits to the state. They’re touting Biden’s file of increasing subsidies for Obamacare insurance coverage, and promising to broaden entry to care, particularly in rural communities.

“Millions more people have coverage today,” stated Neera Tanden, a home coverage adviser to Biden, at a mid-June city corridor occasion in Rothschild, Wisconsin, to announce $11 million in new federal funding to recruit and practice well being care employees.

She stated the positive factors in Obamacare protection have helped obtain “the lowest rate of uninsurance at any time in American history. That’s not an accident.”

But attendees on the city corridor occasion advised Tanden and the secretary of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra, that they’ve misplaced entry to care as hospitals and rural well being clinics have closed.

Xavier Becerra, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, speaks in assist of the Affordable Care Act, often known as Obamacare, alongside Neera Tanden, a home coverage adviser to President Joe Biden, at a city corridor occasion in Rothschild, Wisconsin, on June 13.(Angela Hart/KFF Health News)

“We had a hospital that’s been serving our community for over 100 years close very suddenly,” stated Michael Golat, an Altoona, Wisconsin, resident who described himself as an unbiased voter. “It’s really a crisis here.”

Becerra inspired Wisconsin lawmakers to broaden Medicaid. “Instantaneously, you would have hundreds of thousands of Americans in rural America, and including in rural Wisconsin, who now have access to care,” he stated.

Cory Sillars, a Republican operating for the Wisconsin State Assembly who campaigned on the Birnamwood polka competition, opposes Medicaid growth and stated the state ought to as a substitute grant nurses the authority to follow drugs with out physician supervision, which he argued would assist tackle gaps in rural care.

“If you’re always expanding government programs, you get people hooked on government and they don’t want to do it themselves. They expect it,” he stated.

Sillars is operating as a “pro-life” candidate with “traditional, Christian values,” an anti-abortion stance that some Democrats hope will backfire up and down the poll.

Cory Sillars, a Republican candidate for the Wisconsin State Assembly, attends Birnamwood Polka Days to marketing campaign and watch a parade.(Angela Hart/KFF Health News)

Kristin Lyerly, an obstetrician-gynecologist and a Democrat, has made entry to abortion and contraception central to her marketing campaign to fill the congressional seat vacated by Mike Gallagher, a Republican who resigned in April.

Lyerly lives exterior Green Bay however practices in Minnesota after dealing with threats and harassment, largely from conservative extremists, she stated. She was a plaintiff within the state’s legal bid to dam Republicans from halting entry to abortions. Abortions nonetheless should not obtainable in every single place in Wisconsin, she stated.

“It is incumbent upon me as a physician and a woman to stand up and to use my voice,” Lyerly stated. “This is an issue that people in this district might not be shouting about, but they’re having conversations about it, and they’re going to vote on it.”

This article was produced by KFF Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially unbiased service of the California Health Care Foundation. 

Angela Hart:
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