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Circumstances have changed catastrophically. The CDC said: “ … for the next 60 to 90 days we’re going to have more (COVID-19) deaths per day than we had at 9/11 or we had at Pearl Harbor.” Nationally a cumulative 16 million+ cases and 300,000+ deaths. Wisconsin overwhelmed by 435,000+ cumulative cases with 4,000+ deaths. State hospitals and medical personnel are past the breaking point.

Help is here. About four dozen U.S. Army medical professionals will assist at hospitals in Beaver Dam, Eau Claire, Marshfield and Rice Lake. These troops, along with Wisconsin medical personnel, are putting themselves in harm’s way to treat and save Wisconsinites. To support them we must wear masks, maintain physical distancing and avoid social gatherings.

Vaccines will be available shortly, but it will take months to manufacture, distribute and vaccinate all. Meanwhile we must stand together. Former Wisconsin GOP Governor Tommy Thompson said it best: “We’re Badgers and we’re gonna beat this enemy, but let’s do it together. … It’s a common enemy … COVID-19.”

Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers and Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes must ask all former Democratic and Republican governors, including Scott Walker, and lieutenant governors to join them in urging Wisconsinites to double down on taking precautions. No Christmas or Hanukkah social gatherings, so we can have them in 2021. I am confident the Stop the COVID Spread coalition would join with Evers and the others to produce a holiday PSA, and prevent another COVID-19 holiday surge.

The pandemic has also changed economic circumstances. The Wisconsin Policy Forum (WPF) reports: “When Gov. Tony Evers unveils his proposed 2021-23 budget early next year, he will do so amid elevated unemployment (many jobless losing health coverage), slowing state tax collections and the spending pressures created by an ongoing pandemic and increased demand for social services”, and projected a $373.1 million deficit. One way to “help close the gap” would be Medicaid expansion. The WPF said it “would save a projected $588.3 million over the two-year budget … .”

38 states, including many GOP-led, have expanded Medicaid. Why? The Kaiser Family Foundation said: “A review of 404 studies finds … Medicaid expansion has reduced the uninsured rate and uncompensated care costs, while increasing affordability and access to care and potentially contributing to state budget savings.” Wisconsin could use the enhanced federal funding instead of state spending on mental health and alcohol-drug treatment. Finally, Wisconsin would get 90 percent federal payment for tens of thousands currently covered, for whom the federal match is near 60 percent.

Wisconsin is turning down federal money while paying for other states that expanded Medicaid. Retiring GOP state Senator Luther Olsen said: “When you’ve got that kind of money on the table and a lot of other Republican states have taken it, I think you have to look at that. When you change your mind in politics, you have to have a reason … . And, (COVID-19) is a reason.” It’s time to stop fighting each other and do the right thing.

— Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.


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