MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin health care providers say they feel left in the dark as new legislation to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has yet to pass. Many are concerned their programs and services could face large cuts, and worry for their patients.
Several providers, experts and advocates brought their questions to Thursday's Annual Health Watch Conference. The theme was aptly named, "The health care coverage pendulum swings," as the nation could see a huge shift in the near future.
"We've heard a lot about the possibility of radical changes in health care that will impact Wisconsin," said Bobby Peterson, executive director at ABC for Health.
According to the Wisconsin Hospital Association, 310,000 people in the state, and about 24 million in the nation could lose health care coverage if the plan to repeal the ACA was to pass.
"That's a lot of folks that maybe have a source of primary-care services now and may end up in the emergency room, (which is) a terrible place to get care and services," Peterson said.
Joshua Salazar with UW Hospital has similar concerns for those he helps get into Medicare.
"Not knowing what's coming can be unsettling, but being prepared for what can happen is always a better position to be in," Salazar said.
Many questions were brought up at the conference, as health officials hope to find a solution to problems before they hit.
"Can things be taken away? Can they be reduced? Can certain things be excluded? It's what I think we're all trying to predict," Salazar said.
Peterson said it's hard to answer any of these questions when there is still so much up in the air.
"For providers, it means a lot of uncertainty. You know, what is going to happen to our program? We've built new facilities to help address the expanded population, now are they going to be empty?" Peterson said.
They're also wondering what will happen to staffing numbers, the cost of medication, even if wait times will increase for patients.
"(Patients) may not have the money, (which can lead to) worsened health. There will be increased deaths and increases in uncompensated care," Peterson said.
One thing they can be sure of at this point is that nothing has changed, for now.
"You still have your Medicaid, you still have that ACA coverage. It isn't going away today or tomorrow," Peterson said.
It's important for people who could be affected, such as low-income individuals and those with disabilities, to keep asking questions with large changes possibly coming in the near future.
"Whatever it is that you have for insurance, make sure that you have those lines of communication, that you keep those going during this process so you don't lose what you have now," Salazar said.