Push for expanding BadgerCare could benefit business recovery

The expansion would make more people, including some restaurant workers, eligible for health insurance provided by the state.
The expansion would make more people, including some restaurant workers, eligible for health...
The expansion would make more people, including some restaurant workers, eligible for health insurance provided by the state.(WMTV/Sanika Bhargaw)
Updated: May. 24, 2021 at 6:49 PM CDT
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FITCHBURG, Wis. (WMTV) - Wisconsin lawmakers are set to hold a special session Tuesday on expanding BadgerCare and investing an expected $1 billion in savings. Governor Tony Evers called the special session after lawmakers removed health care expansion from his budget proposal.

Ahead of the special session, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes met with a Fitchburg restaurant owner to promote the benefits of BadgerCare expansion for business recovery. Restaurant and nonprofit owner Dave Heide explained many small businesses are struggling to offer employees full benefits without raising costs. The expansion would make more people eligible for BadgerCare, giving employees and employers more flexibility.

“It’s been tough and restaurants have been doing our best to pull through,” Heide said.

Heide, who owns Liliana’s and Little John’s in Fitchburg, explained the COVID-19 pandemic did not just hit businesses financially.

“Through COVID, we’ve lost a huge amount of staff in our industry,” he said.

Heide said the restaurant industry is especially suffering, and many restaurants are struggling to rehire their employees.

“We’re also struggling trying to pay living wage, trying to take care of our people, trying to offer benefits,” he said.

On Monday, Heide joined Lt. Gov. Barnes to advocate for expanding BadgerCare, calling on lawmakers to consider the proposal.

“When it comes to health insurance, health care, health access, that’s not a partisan issue,” Barnes said.

Heidi said before the pandemic, many restaurant workers struggled to find access to health insurance and other benefits like child care. Now, many hesitate to come back to the industry and lose the extra benefits of unemployment.

“I know cooks who are just dying to get back in the field, but you call and you talk to them, you’re like, ‘Hey man, what’s going on?’ And they’re like, ‘Hey, to be honest with you, I have health care for the first time in my life being on unemployment,’” Heide described.

A BadgerCare expansion would make more people eligible for state-sponsored health care. Workers would not always have to depend on their employers for insurance, and some of the financial pressure on restaurants could lift.

“it’s much more about my industry as a whole being able to let people have an affordable access and option to be able to take care of their family,” Heide said.

Republican leaders already voiced opposition to the expansion, but Heide and Barnes called for continued pressure on lawmakers.

“One of you by yourselves may not make a difference, but if 100,000 phone calls go in, they’re eventually going to start getting heard,” Heide said.

Barnes added, “People in the state are counting on the legislature to do the right thing. If we aren’t providing health care for folks, what are we doing?”

NBC15 reached out to nearly a dozen Republican lawmakers for comment on the special session, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu and Joint Finance Committee co-chairs State Sen. Howard Marklein and State Rep. Mark Born. No lawmakers were available on camera.

Legislators directed NBC15 to a statement released last week. In that statement, republican leaders said they plan to gavel out the special session.

Marklein and Born said in the statement, “The Governor says this special session is about BadgerCare, but this bill is nothing more than a mini budget advanced by the Governor because he didn’t get his way through the normal budget process.”

The special session is scheduled to start Tuesday at noon.

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