SeniorCare petition (copy)

Wisconsin Democrats delivered petitions asking Republican leadership not to touch SeniorCare in the state budget.

PHOTO BY JESSIE OPOIEN

Republicans on the Legislature's budget committee plan to reject Gov. Scott Walker's proposed cuts to Wisconsin's SeniorCare prescription drug program.

Under Walker's proposal, tens of thousands of SeniorCare enrollees would first be required to sign up for Medicare Part D coverage.

Joint Finance Committee chairman Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said the Republican members of the committee plan to leave SeniorCare untouched.

"We will be voting to continue SeniorCare as is," Nygren told reporters. "There will be no changes to the program."

Republicans lawmakers said weeks ago that Walker's proposed restructuring was off the table, but they had continued to mull other changes, including increasing premiums or cutting off enrollment. On Thursday, they said none of those changes will be considered.

"That’s both to the credit of the people of the state of Wisconsin and the people who represent them down here in Madison," Nygren said.

Nygren said the program is simple, and the seniors it serves have come to expect it to be "easy" and "clean to understand." 

SeniorCare participants with an annual income of less than $18,832 pay $30 per year for the program, with $5 co-pays for generic drugs and income-based deductibles. More than 85,000 people are currently enrolled in the $86.5 million program, which is funded by state and federal tax collections and rebates from drug manufacturers.

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Walker's proposal would have increased prescription drug costs for most of the program's 87,000 participants, by varying amounts from person to person, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Milton, led the charge among Democrats asking the Republican majority to leave SeniorCare alone. He led a petition drive that garnered more than 13,000 signatures from people throughout the state. He, like Nygren, credits the people of Wisconsin for the committee's decision.

But while he sees Thursday's decision as a good one, he has mixed feelings about how Republican lawmakers arrived at it.

"I have a lot of thoughts going through my head right now, one of which is, isn't it sad — this is what it takes to save something so common sense, that saves lives, saves the taxpayers money? That 14,000 people had to rise up and send petitions to the Capitol to once again make the right thing happen. I'm glad it happened, but it just shows the party in charge is so out of touch that they even went here one more time."

Walker proposed similar changes in his 2011 budget, but they were quashed by bipartisan opposition.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.