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Folks being booted from BadgerCare as online exchanges open

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MADISON (WITI) -- The state Department of Health Services is sending out letters this week to thousands of Wisconsinites, letting them know they no longer qualify for BadgerCare. They are people living just above the poverty line, and now, they're going to be looking for insurance in a new marketplace -- the so-called "insurance exchanges" that open online in a little more than a week.

BadgerCare is Wisconsin's version of Medicaid -- the government health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

Thousands currently getting their insurance that way are about to see a big change -- and the approaching deadline is re-igniting a debate between Democrats and Gov. Walker.

"We will still -- as we have in the past, having 90 percent or more covered in this state, we build on that. We reduce the number of uninsured, and yet we still reduce the total number of people dependent on Medicaid going forward," Gov. Scott Walker said.

George Brown of Milwaukee says he has had his share of health concerns.

"I had two mild strokes and brain surgery," Brown says.

Now, Brown has another concern: He could be dumped from BadgerCare.

"It's a struggle, really. I'm trying to fight for to keep it because BadgerCare was really nice," Brown said.

In Wisconsin, about 90,000 people will be moved from BadgerCare to the new online exchanges.

Gov. Walker opposes the new health care law, and rejected federal money for expanding BadgerCare. 

"I don't think it's good public policy to have the federal government dictate to me or my family, or anyone else in this country what to do on health care," Gov. Walker said.

The rules for BadgerCare also changed. Under the new rules, a single adult making more than 100 percent of the poverty level, or $11,496 or more would be booted from BadgerCare and would have to find insurance via the online exchanges.

"I don't think that's realistic to ask someone to add that kind of out-of-pocket payment for coverage," Rep. Jon Richards (D - Milwaukee) said.

"As of the budget I signed June 30, everyone living in poverty will be covered under Medicaid. Those living above it will be transitioned into the marketplace. That transition is dependent on the exchanges up and going," Gov. Walker said.

"I think the Governor is making a big mistake. It's something that's costing the state of Wisconsin $120 million," Rep. Richards said.

The exchanges open on October 1st. It will be a one-stop-shop website. By December 15th, folks must enroll in insurance plans, and then on January 1st, BadgerCare runs out for people who are above 100 percent of the poverty level.

"It's going to throw people's lives into chaos. It may end up costing all of us more money because what's going to end up happening is that you'll have fewer people having health insurance and having car accidents, or getting sick and having to go to the emergency room without coverage. I'm afraid what you're going to have at the end of the day is far fewer people with coverage and potentially much higher hospital bills for all of us," Rep. Richards said.

When the exchanges open on October 1st, that is when people will have their first look at plans and prices from 13 different companies competing for business.