Voters give providers something to worry about

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John O'Connor, editorial director, McKnight's Long-Term Care News
John O'Connor, editorial director, McKnight's Long-Term Care News
Earlier this week, voters in Wisconsin used the ballot box to send a strong message: They want lower taxes. That's the general consensus after a recall election that Republican Gov. Scott Walker survived.

GOP and Democratic strategists were watching the race as a possible harbinger of this fall's presidential election. But that's a shortsighted view. The race may very well prove to be a harbinger of future Medicare and Medicaid funding. And if that is the case, look out.

Voters basically said that if they have a choice between lower taxes or better social services, lower taxes prevail. That's a completely understandable sentiment. After all, who wants to see more of their earnings carved away? But unfortunately for providers, Medicare and Medicaid — which just happen to be the industry's largest payment sources — are funded by, ahem, taxes.

If there's a silver lining in the cloud for the industry here, it is that Walker's victory was seen as a major defeat for organized labor. He pushed a bill through the Legislature last year that put sharp limits on collective bargaining rights for many government workers. His argument was that he was making the "tough choices" necessary to balance the state's budget. That message appeared to resonate with voters, who gave him a 53% to 46% victory over challenger Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Yes, Wisconsin is only one state. So we need to be careful about reading too much into this recall election. But the Badger State may prove to be the proverbial canary in the coalmine. If so, it's fair to ask what the takeaways for providers should be.

One is that unions may have a tougher go of it. The other is that taxpayers want to pay less into the funds you count on. As split decisions go, this one feels more like a defeat.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.

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