On Thursday, Oct. 11, the LU College Democrats partnered with Citizen Action Wisconsin and the Northeast Wisconsin Organizing Co-op to host a healthcare town hall featuring Wisconsin Attorney General candidate Josh Kaul and State Assembly candidate Matt Lederer. Around 50 Appleton-area residents and Lawrence students attended to voice their concerns about healthcare, with Kaul speaking to changes that could be made on the judicial side of lawmaking and Lederer speaking to the legislative side.
The town hall began with opening remarks from the candidates. Kaul described his background as a prosecutor in Wisconsin, where most of his work has focused on voting rights cases. Regarding why he’s running for Attorney General, Kaul said, “I want my family and families across Wisconsin to live in a state that’s safer and stronger than we’re on track for right now.” He said that Wisconsin required better leadership, for instance, with regards to fighting the opioid epidemic. Kaul said that Wisconsin should focus on targeting large-scale opioid traffickers and increase access to treatment. Kaul also said, “I think we need an AG who will be serious about holding pharmaceutical companies accountable for the role they’ve played in this epidemic,” which was met with applause. Kaul also discussed Wisconsin’s backlog of untested rape kits. He said that the current Attorney General, Brad Schimel, mishandled this backlog, resulting in only nine of the 4000 kits being tested. Kaul said the elimination of this backlog will be his top priority as Attorney General.
Lederer then gave a briefer introduction. With his background as a chiropractor, he said that he has an interesting perspective on healthcare as a provider of it himself. He said that he would pay special attention to healthcare as a lawmaker because he noticed that it’s one of the main issues people discuss when he canvasses. He also said, “I really care about gerrymandering and getting the money out of politics. To me, those two things are the root causes of all these other issues because right now, politicians don’t need to listen to us.”
The town hall then began with a question from organizer Jolie Lizette. She asked the candidates how they would ensure insurance companies give equal coverage to people with mental health and drug addiction problems. Josh Kaul responded with a theme he would repeat throughout the night — that Wisconsin must keep the Affordable Care Act, which is currently under attack in Congress. He also advocated for expanding Medicaid and access to mental health treatment. Lederer echoed these points and said, “I don’t see why mental health care is any different than any other sort of healthcare. It is health.”
One area of contention at the town hall was dental care access. An attendee said that dental care is “almost unavailable” to many Wisconsin residents, especially in counties more rural than Outagamie County. When Lederer said the solution will be a matter of negotiating with the Delta Dental insurance company of Wisconsin, the attendee laughed and said, “It’s not gonna work.” A dentist then chimed in, saying that Wisconsin dentists have typically only been paid 22 percent of their customary rate. He said, “I don’t know of a solution right now because the funding is not there. That’s the way it is, and these people are in serious trouble. Many of them have abscesses and are in serious pain.” Kaul responded that preventive care would be a wise investment in this case, and that the federal government will play a key role in providing more funding.
In an emotional moment, an attendee described losing her daughter to a heroin overdose. She lamented Wisconsin’s poor coverage for people with both mental health and addiction problems, saying that her daughter had particular trouble getting coverage due to her one prison conviction. Kaul responded, “In our court system, we need to make sure diversion programs are available. If people show up in our court system and we know their problem is addiction or mental health-related, we can reduce crime and help those people if we offer diversion programs.” Lederer then suggested that addiction and mental health counselors should be mandatory in prison systems. He also suggested that legal medical marijuana could serve as a good alternative for people in need of painkillers that would normally be prescribed addictive opioids.
The town hall ended with Kaul and Lederer’s closing remarks. The two reiterated that the ACA is in danger in Wisconsin and must remain in place. Lederer focused on the impending removal of protections for people with pre-existing conditions. He found it ridiculous that Wisconsin lawmakers said they’d remove these protections and then draft a new law to reinstate them. He said, “I don’t start a grease fire and say, ‘Don’t worry, the fire won’t get out of control. But if it does, I’ll go buy a fire extinguisher.’ I just don’t want to light the match in the first place.”
Following these remarks, organizer Jolie Lizotte recommended attendees join the Northeast Wisconsin Organizing Co-op, which helps push and request legislation in Wisconsin. Co-founder of Citizen Action Wisconsin Ann Muenster then spoke, urging people to join the organization so they can “get out the vote” and get as many people to vote for their desired candidates, like Kaul and Lederer, as possible.