Advocacy Day 2019

Wisconsin Free & Charitable Clinics Advocacy Day (April 4, 2019)

~ Impressions by Kate Smith, OAFC Community Relations Coordinator

With a lot of talk about the federal government, it can be easy to forget the real impact our state government can have. There are a lot of important bills and amendments at stake right here in Wisconsin that are so much more important than the latest tweets. I perhaps did not realize how important state legislation was until I participated in the Wisconsin Association of Free & Charitable Clinics Annual Advocacy Day on Thursday, April 4, 2019.

On Advocacy Day, leaders and supporters of free and charitable clinics sit down with their state representatives to let them know how upcoming legislative changes affect the patients, residents, and clinics in their districts. A few of our members, including Sara Nichols, are pros at explaining the significant impact a representative’s support can make in the daily lives of their constituents. As a total newbie, I watched as my group deftly conversed with the people who would help decide the future of our state.

It impressed me how confident and persuasive they were, and I realized that, like always, they were simply being honest about the effects of the new legislation and how much they cared about the outcome. Being surrounded by a group of people so fervently fighting for their patients in their respective clinics was both electrifying and humbling, as it made me want to fight alongside them and learn from them all at the same time.

While there were several issues we discussed that day, the most important piece of legislation was the expansion of the Medicaid Dental Expansion Pilot. The pilot was run in four different counties and included a 43% reimbursement rate (as opposed to the normal 21%). Three of the four counties did not experience much success; the private dentists agreed to take Medicaid patients if it was an emergency and did not advertise at all. As a result, there was very little increase in services performed for those on Medicaid. However, the pilot was extremely successful in Brown County. The dental clinic in Brown County seized the opportunity and coordinated with private dentists to see 4,000 additional patients! I cannot stress enough what an impact that has made on the population. The success of the pilot was largely due to the ability of the community-based non-profit dental clinic to realize the potential that extra 40 cents to the dollar could make and their skill at putting that little bit of extra money to use.

Currently, there are approximately 30,000 Walworth County residents who are living at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (Source: 2014-2016 Wisconsin Family Health Survey, Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Division of Public Health, Office of Health Informatics). As of the most recent statistics for insurance status in Walworth County, there are approximately 8,000 residents who do not have health insurance, there are 7,100 children enrolled in Medicaid, and 6,378 adults enrolled in Medicaid. There are 12,000 Medicare beneficiaries and 5,646 Veterans living in Walworth County. Currently, the majority of these folks MUST travel outside of the county in order to find a dentist who will treat them.

If the Medicaid Dental Reimbursement pilot was expanded to include clinics state-wide, OAFC would be able to serve and sustain dental services for the the underinsured with a ratio of 70% Medicaid and 30% Uninsured. Now that is something to smile about!

This was the message we were trying to communicate to our representatives at the capitol. There were certainly mixed results, with some individuals clearly seeing the potential of the program while others apathetically nodded their heads. It was difficult to see some people not “get it”, when the need seems so obvious to me, but talking with people who did understand and were supporting our needs was very encouraging.

Emotionally the day felt like a roller-coaster. Excitement to meet our government officials, awe of the beautiful capitol building, disillusion with the intent of the representatives, and finally hope that some people are working very hard to take care of their constituents.

I wrestled with all of these feelings in the car on my way out of Madison. The radio was spouting predictions on the governor’s budget, and it struck me that I was just in the midst of the very events behind the news stories. I hoped that our small conversations had an impact, and that sometime soon I would hear of how the State of Wisconsin was at the forefront of Free and Charitable Clinic support.

So talk to your representatives! Give them a call, send them a letter! They are real people who deserve to know the people they are representing. Tell them how they can support OAFC through these small changes or let them know how a free and charitable clinic has made an impact in your life.


Kate Smith

If you would like to find your state representatives, click here. If you would like to find out more about Open Arms Free Clinic, visit our About Us page.