By: Shelby Le Duc
Source: Green Bay Press-Gazette
Denmark family puts face on Medicaid debate
Watching 6-year-old Steve Warpinski play T-ball, you'd never guess that just three years ago he was heading into an operating room for his third open heart surgery.
He was born in September 2010 with five congenital heart defects. Doctors discovered the life-threatening conditions 20 weeks into his mother Molly Warpinski's pregnancy and immediately referred her to specialists at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
"Our biggest concern was the fear of the unknown," she said. "We never really knew how severe his issues would be, and that's something no parent ever wants to feel or experience."
Now, after numerous procedures, tests and continual follow-up doctors visits at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin Fox Valley, Steve is a much healthier, happy boy.
The family left town Monday for Washington, D.C., where they will lobby the state's congressional delegation to preserve current funding for Medicaid, the federal health insurance program that the Warpinskis relied on to help pay for their son's treatment.
They are one of 45 families from 27 states asked to represent the Children's Hospital Association in Washington this week.
The lobbying push is part of an annual effort, but it takes on new meaning this year as Republicans who control Congress seek to repeal the Affordable Care Act, including the law's expansion of Medicaid eligibility.
Under the most recent version of a bill in the U.S. Senate, Medicaid enrollment would be capped and the expansion of the insurance program under the ACA would be rolled back over a period of years.
Children's Hospital of Wisconsin spokesperson Andy Brodzeller said the Warpinskis' story is a telling example of how important access to Medicaid and quality pediatric care is in saving the lives of children — as well as how expensive medical care can be without it.
The Warpinskis have health insurance through Matt Warpinski's job as a steamfitter at a manufacturer in the area, and Molly Warpinski works as a respiratory therapist. Still, the deductibles and out-of-pocket costs for their son's medical care were more than they ever imagined or could have handled on their own.
"Thousands and thousands of dollars," Molly said.
On top of the three-stage open heart surgery that began when Steve was just 9 days old, Molly Warpinski said they will never forget the sinking feeling when she saw that their portion of a bill to airlift Steve to Milwaukee was more than $12,000.
"That financial burden would have been just absolutely debilitating to our livelihood, home life ... everything," she said.
She said it was depressing to think that the family faced potential financial ruin as a consequence of doing what needed to be done to help their son survive.
A voice for other families
In Washington, the Warpinskis will meet with U.S. Reps. Mike Gallagher, Ron Kind and Glenn Grothman, and U.S. Sens. Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin to discuss Medicaid and how the program has helped their family.
"My main purpose is to have them look at Steve and have them think, 'This is why we do what we do. This is who we need to help,'" she said. "And we will ask that they please don’t do anything to harm these children. They've already had enough bad days, they don't need to worry about what's going to happen."
In May, about 1 million people were enrolled in Medicaid in Wisconsin, including 441,000 children, according to the state Department of Health Services. Because Medicaid eligibility is need based, actual usage grows to about 500,000 children a year, according to an Peggy Troy, president and CEO of Children's Hospital of Wisconsin.
Molly Warpinski said her family wants to be a voice for other families who are experiencing financial hardships that will likely intensify if significant cuts are made to Medicaid.
"We are so honored to go to Washington to show Steve's bravery and how strong he is, she said. "But at the same show these men and women in office we still need their help."
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