November 26, 2014

Push for Obamacare enrollment

openenrollMonday saw a push for Obamacare enrollment in Madison and Dane County, with the deadline approaching for people to sign up or shop for a new plan at Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin – who while serving in the U.S. House helped to write the Affordable Care Act – said Obamacare has been a success in Wisconsin, with 139,000 people signed up as of May of this year.

“This time we did something different with the website. First off, we made sure it worked,” joked U.S. Representative Mark Pocan, refering to the well-documented problems with the federal website. “It is faster, it is simpler, it is more intuitive.”

Oma Vic McMurray, a family daycare provider in Madison, shared her Obamacare story. “The Affordable Care Act isn’t just improving my access to health care. It has made my life much more humane,” she said.

With the second year of sign ups for the Affordable Care Act underway, Wisconsin residents who don’t have insurance are being urged to take advantage of the federal marketplace. Even if already signed last year, you can go onto  to shop for a better plan this year. The deadline is December 15th.

Wisconsin has lots of binge drinkers, mostly in Brown County

Alcohol (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Alcohol (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

A new survey shows adults in the Green Bay area do more binge-drinking than folks elsewhere in Wisconsin, which is higher than the national average.

Community officials have issued their first “Brown County Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance Survey.” It shows 38 percent of county adults took part in binge drinking in the past 30 days — that means they had five or more drinks in just one day. Similar studies from the past year show that 35 percent of Wisconsin adults went on a drinking binge at least once, that’s higher than the 32 percent national average.

The highest rates of Brown County binge drinking occurs in young adults. About 400 phone calls were made to folks about a variety of health-related habits.

Family Care will expand to 7 more Wisconsin counties

State lawmakers have approved expansion of the popular Family Care program. Joint Finance Committee co-chair, Marinette Republican Representative John Nygren, said the expansion into seven counties in northeastern Wisconsin comes despite concerns over cost.

“From the beginning, there was a concern that’s been raised – and I think a somewhat legitimate concern – about the growth the Family Care, the growth of the Medicaid budget, and our ability to be able to afford these programs for the elderly and the disabled long-term,” Nygren said.

But Nygren and Representative John Klenke of Green Bay both saw the expansion as a matter of equity. “It’s an equity issue for the people that we represent to be able to have the same level of services that the vast majority of the remainder of our state has,” said Nygren.

The finance committee vote was unanimous. Family Care provides long-term care to the elderly and persons with disabilities through managed care organizations. It’s now available in 57 of the state’s 72 counties.

Wisconsin voters approve referendums on Medicaid dollars

Voters across Wisconsin approved referendums on Tuesday, asking the state to accept federal Medicaid dollars. Robert Kraig with Citizen Action said the referendums – in nineteen counties and the city of Kenosha – won by landslide margins even in areas of the state that also supported Governor Scott Walker and conservative legislative candidates.

“It was 73 percent statewide, and it ran in most counties, even very conservative counties, ahead of Governor Walker,” Kraig said. “It’s clearly not a partisan issue whatsoever.”

As to whether Walker and Republican legislative leaders might eventually reconsider the decision to reject the federal funding to expand BadgerCare, Kraig said the ball is in their court. “They have – Governor Walker especially – drawn this line in the sand, that is not necessary,” Kraig. “It’s very clear that the voters, in reelecting Governor Walker and a conservative legislature, are not saying that they should continue to follow this policy of needlessly leaving hundreds of millions of federal dollars on the table.

That line appears to still be brightly drawn, though. Asked on Wednesday whether he’d consider taking the federal money, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said “no, period.”

Walker, citing concerns about the long-term viability of federal funding, rejected the expanded Medicaid funding in 2013. Instead of expanding BadgerCare, the Walker administration moved to tighten eligibility requirements and shift more people to federal health exchanges.

“There are a lot of Republican governors that have taken the money, and they’ve gotten a lot of waivers,” said Kraig. “You could do almost everything Governor Walker wants and take the money. So it’s a question of whether he’s going to be constructive on this issue. If he’s not, it’s not going to go away, and will become a major point of contention in this budget.”

Brittany Maynard dies, Wisconsin widow tells her story

Wendy Kreps Peterson holds a photo of her husband Keith Kreps, who died August 19, 2014 with his loved ones by his bedside.  (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Wendy Kreps Peterson holds a photo of her husband Keith Kreps, who died August 19, 2014 with his loved ones by his bedside. (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Terminally ill 29-year-old Brittany Maynard made national news when she moved to Oregon to make use of that state’s “Death with Dignity” law, rather than suffer through an aggressive brain cancer — stage 4 glioblastoma. The physician-assisted suicide advocate ended her life on Saturday.

Wendy Kreps Peterson lives in Madison. Her husband Keith Kreps passed away in August. Death was inevitable, but he was able to plan the time and place. Friends gathered at his bedside for a final farewell. “It didn’t have to be scary and dark and terrifying and morbid. In fact, it was beautiful.” The emotional Kreps Peterson adds, “It was lovely and peaceful and he deserved it.”

Only five states allow physicians to prescribe life-ending medications to terminally ill patients. Wisconsin is not among them. Kreps’ situation was different than Maynard’s. He was an active man who became bed-bound as a result of an undiagnosed disease. He needed assistance for every aspect of his life, including breathing.

AUDIO: Kreps Peterson says her husband wanted to have control, for various reasons. 2:00

Dr. Toby Campbell, chief of the Palliative Care program at UW School of Medicine, explains Kreps was on life support. “So he made a decision to turn off a machine — a breathing machine called a BiPAP machine — that was supporting his breathing and keeping him alive. Because he was dependent on that machine to stay alive, he had an option to turn it off.” (Obit)

AUDIO: Dr. Campbell says health professionals should inform patients about the best and worst case scenarios, as well as alternatives. :48

Brittany Maynard

Brittany Maynard

Maynard had made the difficult decision to end her life on November 1, 2014 in her home surrounded by friends and family. She moved to Oregon to seek a doctor’s aid in dying before being further robbed of her physical and mental abilities, and ultimately reduced to complete dependency. Maynard initially thought she could postpone her departure because she wasn’t ready. She said she still felt “good enough” and had “enough joy,” laughing and smiling with her family and friends enough that it didn’t “seem like the right time.”

Ultimately, Maynard took the lethal prescription drugs over the weekend. She was 29. posted the obituary.

Campbell and Kreps Peterson both encourage everyone to consider their options and talk about their final wishes with their family — before it’s too late. Kreps Peterson says, unlike our ancestors, it’s odd that people nowadays don’t readily have conversations surrounding death. Dr. Campbell says the survivng loved ones are much healthier in the long run if they do communicate. He says they have a much lower risk for complicated grief disorder or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to the most recent data from the Oregon Department of Human Services, 122 terminally ill patients were prescribed life-ending drugs in 2013 but only 71 used them to take their own lives.

Wisconsin Right to Life issued a statement on Monday, saying the group “extends our deepest condolences to the family of Brittany Maynard upon her death.   While we regret the circumstances of her death, we empathize with the severity of her illness.”

AUDIO: Jackie Johnson report 1:40