UPDATE: November 2011 – Frank was terminated from BadgerCare and is now without health insurance.
Original Post: May 11, 2011
“Frank” is a 60-yr-old Wisconsin man. He’s a single, self-employed contractor who works on homes after they have been foreclosed. He has several grown children and small grandchildren, some whom were running around or jumping on his lap during our interview. Frank is a classic Midwesterner of his generation in many ways. For instance, his most passionate points of the day referred to his love for The Green Bay Packers. He would’ve been content to stay on the football topic for much longer. He’s also typical in his willingness to help others while uncomfortable complaining about his own situation. For this reason, he wished to remain anonymous. Frank told me that he is about to lose his state-funded BadgerCare insurance for low income Wisconsinites. Approximately 63,000 residents around the state share his predicament.
Here’s his story.
Q. At what age did you start working?
A. I started working for (neighbors) on the farm at age 12 or 13… mostly just chase cows for them. Got up at 4:00 in the morning and brought ‘em into the corral…well they knew the way. As I got older I would feed the calves or bail hay, chores like that. By the time I was 16 I had enough money saved up to buy my first car… a ’64 Ford.
Q. What was your next job?
A. After high school [by then married] I worked for a construction company burying telephone lines, removing old telephone poles. And then I went to work at a local meat packing plant. I worked there for 15 years until they got bought out by a non-union company and we all lost our jobs. [By this time Frank and his wife also had 3 young children.]
Q. So when a non-union company bought the plant, they didn’t keep your crew on?
A. No. We got severance pay. For working in a plant, I really liked working there. I was never just standing in one spot. I was moving, pushed carts around or formulated things. I liked the people there and it was great pay and full insurance for the family. For working at a plant, I really liked it.
Q. Was there grumbling when you were let go?
A. We knew it was coming–and you could stay on. But, I mean – it was – the pay was so much less it was ridiculous. It just wasn’t the same anymore when they took over. It changed a lot of stuff with my family.
Q. Any correlation between then and now?
A. Same in the sense that it is all about big business…people will say that “I’m not making much, you shouldn’t be either.” No body cared about us. [This was in the 1980’s] back when Reagan started this “Trick Down” stuff – we’ve seen now that it doesn’t work… I mean, why isn’t there any strings attached? Like “you have to create this many good jobs or you don’t get any money.” But there is never any of that. They just give them [big corporations] the money and it doesn’t make its way back.
Q. What led you back to farming?
A. After I lost my job at the plant, it was luck that I found a great deal on the farm. It was a guaranteed income for a family. I was involved in a farm co-op where I shared in the profits. [He and his wife divorced at some point during this time.] But there again it was a local business getting bought out from a big one from some where else. Farmer’s profit was cut in half after the buyout. So it was just a series of these things. [Frank chuckled and shook his head]
Q. So, this has happened to you twice now. Where you have had an income where you were making it, supporting a family, had insurance and the small, local company you worked for was sold to a larger corporation which took away your power as a worker.
A. Yep. Two different times. After the buyout, it came to light that a corrupt person in the system down there [in his co-op] was stealing money and we all lost most of our equity. I don’t even know if he went to prison over that (chuckled), it was just one of those things that got pushed under the rug. So yeah, that was going to be my retirement (laughed). So, now I don’t have any retirement. And, you know what it’s one of those things that I am so thankful that I’m healthy to work. And I have a job and for some reason I don’t lose sleep over it. I just somehow feel that something will work out that I’ll be alright.
Q. So how long have you been on BadgerCare?
A. Two years
Q. How long until you qualify for Social Security or Medicare, those type of things.
A. When I’m 65, another 5 years.
Q. Take us through your health insurance coverage in your life?
A. Well I had coverage for the family at the (meat packing) plant. Then I bought my own policy for us all on the farm. One daughter had a serious health problem and insurance wouldn’t pay. [It was discovered that she had a congenital birth defect which was correctible with proper intervention, but deadly without it.]
Q. So you paid your premiums every month and insurance wouldn’t pay for your daughter’s surgery?
A. No they wouldn’t. I was mad about it but they said it was a pre-existing condition. So someone recommended The Shriners and they took her in and completely took care of everything. Every time I see one of those guys I thank them. I mean, I tell them don’t even call and ask me – just send me the donation slip every year, I’ll pay it. And I always put a note in there thanking them for everything that they do.
Then when the kids were all out of the house I just had a really high end deductible thing. One company I was with dropped me when I needed shoulder surgery. It got so bad that couldn’t work for a while so I asked about surgery. But they wouldn’t cover it saying it was a pre-existing condition and then they dropped me after that. So I just learned to live with the shoulder. It will never be right, but you know – you won’t die from that. After they dropped me I had a lapse for several years when I didn’t have any insurance.
Q. So you were without insurance for years?
A. Yep. I just stayed really healthy, you know. But then I qualified for BadgerCare. I had to go the emergency room for a hernia while the Badger Care paperwork was going through. I had to pay for that myself. It was over $900. That was a surgery that I absolutely needed. I don’t know what I would’ve done without BadgerCare. The thing with BadgerCare is that is was a pre-existing condition and they still paid for it. I mean the thing about the shoulder, I can live with that, like I said, I wasn’t going to die from it. But the hernia – yeah – I needed that.
**[I called the hospital nearest Frank and was quoted a price of $9,489 for hernia surgery. Frank told me that it took him 18 months to pay off the ER visit. At this rate – and if he never needed any more health care – he would’ve paid for the hernia surgery for over 16 years without BadgerCare.]
Q. What is the word on the street in your world concerning all of this political stuff?
A. It’s split right down the middle. Either they are all for Walker or they think it is outrageously wrong. I really don’t see anybody that is just middle of the road…and for once it is not just Democrats against Republicans. You see a lot of Republicans upset with it….and when you hear a Governor say that “bi-partisan doesn’t work”…well, hugh! That is just blatant in your face ‘I really don’t care what you people think, and I don’t care what the majority thinks, we are in control now and this is the way that things will be done.’
Q. What would be one thing you’d like to say to your elected leaders if you can get your story out there? Because some of the things being said are that you are “special interest groups” and those on Badger Care should “work harder” and it seems to me that you have worked hard your whole life.
A. Yeah I have worked hard my whole life. I don’t like being bitter at the system, but I am bitter about this because I would think that all of the taxes I’ve paid that…uh…I mean that hernia surgery is the only big thing I’ve needed. I haven’t been to a doctor much since. I’m not a burden. I’d like to see them keep BadgerCare and only use it in an emergency, because, I don’t abuse the system. But even with BadgerCare I wouldn’t mind paying a portion of it if I could continue to have it. I’m just wondering if they are eliminating BadgerCare then why haven’t they given us any direction about what to do from here?
Frank told one of the 63,000 BadgerCare stories in Wisconsin today. Many of our friends, neighbors, and family members will face the difficult choice of either using the expensive ER services (paid for by the tax payers) or simply “learn to live with it.” Frank feels lucky that he has no young dependants at home. Many families face a terrifiying position of losing crucial care for adults who provide for small children, physically and psychologically endangering the stability of the family unit. Frank would like to know: “Why haven’t [you] given us any direction about what to do from here?”