Interfaith Leaders In Wisconsin Are Fasting Every Saturday During Lent To Urge Medicaid Expansion

CREDIT: Fast4Fairness

An interfaith group of leaders hold a press conference about the Fast4Fairness campaign on Ash Wednesday

An interfaith group of religious leaders and community activists in Racine, Wisconsin will be fasting every Saturday this Lent to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s (R-WI) decision to reject the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and kick nearly 80,000 people off of the state’s current, relatively generous Medicaid program, BadgerCare.

The campaign, called Fast4Fairness, is being organized by the Racine Interfaith Coalition (RIC) and advocacy group Community for Change. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and agnostic Racine County residents held a press conference on Ash Wednesday to announce the effort.

“We have a system that is not a level playing field for all of us,” said Jameel Ghuari of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, urging a multi-faith effort to expand health care to the needy. “We must focus on this issue of health care and making sure that affordable health care is available to all of our citizens, without discrimination. This is a battle that will not be won in a moment, it will not be won in a year. It will take all of our lives.”

Walker’s controversial Medicaid proposal won federal approval in January. Under his plan, about 80,000 poor residents who have incomes between 100 percent and 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) will be kicked off of BadgerCare on April 1 and siphoned off into the state’s Obamacare marketplace, where they can buy private insurance. In exchange, about 83,000 other, poorer childless adults will be newly eligible for Medicaid (although the overall effect is still expected to be a net cut to the state Medicaid program).

It’s ultimately a raw deal for the poor. Unlike several states that have pursued a Medicaid expansion alternative by taking generous federal expansion funds to subsidize the purchase of private Obamacare policies, Walker isn’t getting any extra federal money for his plan. Consequently, the poor people he’s shifting from Medicaid to private Obamacare policies won’t have access to nearly the same level of federal assistance, likely relegating them to the lowest-tier plans that may not be suited for the unique medical needs of the poor — and it will actually wind up costing the state more money than simply accepting Obamacare’s traditional expansion.

Walker has “created an expensive complicated mess by not accepting federal Medicaid expansion dollars,” Bob Peterson, the executive director of the public interest law firm ABC for Health, said in a January interview with Modern Healthcare. “Scott Walker is motivated by political ambition rather than the need to truly help low income Wisconsinites get health care coverage.”

Kelly Gallaher of Community for Change, one of the event’s organizers, told ThinkProgress that the Fast4Fairness campaign was inspired by the people in the state who desperately need better health coverage.

“Our county, Racine County, has nine percent more early deaths than other counties in the state, thirty-five percent more sexual infections, and on and on,” Gallaher explained in a phone interview. “More air pollution, more low birth weight babies — and so when you want to talk about the confluence of economics, healthcare, and employment, we are ground zero.”

Given those stark realities — and the ever-looming April 1 date, when thousands will lose their Medicaid coverage — a local unified school board member who had participated in previous fasts for immigration reform in Washington decided to pitch the idea to Racine faith and activist groups. Soon afterwards, an assortment of 26 churches and community organizations had signed on to the effort.

“For the next four Saturdays, we’re going to fast and pray and meditate, we’re going to sign people up for healthcare, even our public [enrollment counselors] are coming to the churches,” said Gallaher.