Opinion: Medicaid expansion is popular – and necessary

October 27, 2022

This opinion originally ran in Wausau Pilot & Review.

By Philip R. O’Brien, national member of the ACS CAN Board of Directors

In the Badger State, we have a proud tradition of taking care of each other when our friends and neighbors are struggling. It’s the Wisconsin way. Right now, tens of thousands of Wisconsinites are struggling to afford health care for diseases like cancer.

Expanding BadgerCare, Wisconsin’s Medicaid program, is incredibly popular. According to the latest survey done by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), 7 in 10 Wisconsinites want to see BadgerCare expanded and 8 in 10 want our elected officials to take action to make health care more affordable.

BadgerCare is critical in the fight against cancer. Thousands of Wisconsinites depend on this program for cancer prevention, early detection, treatment and survivorship care services. In Wisconsin, over 37,300 people will be diagnosed with cancer this year, that’s 102 every single day.

The most important thing a cancer patient needs to treat their cancer is health insurance. And for 1 in 8 Wisconsinites, that insurance is BadgerCare. Cancer patients without health insurance tend to be diagnosed a full stage later than insured individuals, marking a substantial difference in treatment cost. Expanding BadgerCare would cover cancer patients who currently do not have insurance.

We need to acknowledge what rural, urban and suburban folks confirmed in the poll results: Wisconsin has a huge health care affordability gap. Expanding BadgerCare would allow 91,000 Wisconsin residents with lower incomes and their families to gain access to comprehensive and affordable health care coverage. That’s more Wisconsinites than you can pack into Lambeau Field. Expanding BadgerCare would cover hard-working farmers, veterans, and new mothers on limited income who cannot afford the increasingly high costs of health care. While many Marketplace plans offer a low monthly premium, they are not affordable for every income level. Additionally, the $8,000 deductibles that sometimes go with these plans are out of reach and mean people are forced to skip seeing a doctor even with Marketplace insurance coverage.

More than dollars and cents, the biggest impact in expanding BadgerCare is saving lives. A recent study led by researchers at the American Cancer Society (ACS) reveals states that have expanded Medicaid have experienced an increase in two-year overall survival rates among patients newly diagnosed with cancer, especially among people living in rural areas as well as non-Hispanic Black people. In comparison, individuals without affordable health insurance are less likely to receive a late-stage cancer diagnosis. When there is a delay in screening and treatment our family, friends and neighbors have poorer prognoses and the cancer is much more expensive to treat.

Thirty-eight other states have already expanded their Medicaid coverage and we can assess what is working in those states. This is not a “red state/blue state” phenomenon. States as varied as Louisiana and Massachusetts have expanded Medicaid. In addition to saving lives, expansion in other states has created jobs and brought millions of tax dollars home to those states.

When our families are protected, our communities and our economy are stronger. BadgerCare keeps hospital doors open across our state so that doctors, nurses and aides can provide lifesaving care for people with cancer and other diseases, secures more jobs in our communities and helps our state and nation become healthier and more prosperous.

BadgerCare provides health insurance to low-income children and adults, seniors and people with disabilities, so that they can get the care they need to get and stay healthy. It allows people to see a doctor when they need a cancer screening. When they are sick, it allows them to get check-ups, buy medications and go to the hospital. In tough times like these, when people lose jobs and need help, BadgerCare protects people’s health and their finances — because no one should have to choose between paying for health care and paying for rent or groceries.

I encourage you to visit to see how the candidates for governor plan to address our health care affordability gap for low-income Wisconsinites.

Phil O’Brien is a Wisconsin resident and member of the national Board of Directors for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), the advocacy affiliate of the American Cancer Society (ACS).