Citing funding issues, the Department of Health Services made the decision to freeze enrollment for the BadgerCare Plus Basic Plan program last Friday and said premiums may double or even triple for current members.

DHS Secretary Dennis Smith said it is unfortunate that the organization has to freeze enrollment limits, but the program inherited from the previous administration is economically unrealistic.

“We will maintain coverage for those currently in the program and help new applicants find alternative coverage,” Smith said in a statement. “BadgerCare Plus Basic Plan was never intended to be funded with state taxpayer dollars.”

Smith said the design of the program and the decisions made by the previous administration are unsustainable, and in order to prevent a cost shift to the state taxpayers, it is necessary to suspend enrollment and increase premiums.

The program began nine months ago and showed a 4,000 person enrollment increase between July and February, which Smith attributed to the economic downturn in a statement. Currently, Basic Plan spending exceeds premium collections by more than $1 million.

Smith added the BadgerCare Basic deficit could be larger because claims take up to three months to be processed. The real deficit, according to DHS, could be as large as $5.7 million.

Basic Plan members currently pay $130 per month in addition to payments for services rendered. Smith said that number could be raised.

“If the Basic Plan is to remain at all viable for current enrollees, premiums will also need to be doubled, if not tripled,” Smith said.

DHS will assist Basic Plan members who cannot afford the increase in premiums or who want to leave the program for alternate health coverage.

Critics of the measure said capping enrollment for BadgerCare Basic demonstrates misguided priorities.

“To cap health care for people who need it and have nowhere else to turn? It seems to me there’s a lot of other places where you could find this money,” said Jay Heck, executive director for Common Cause in Wisconsin. “It’s a question of what the Walker administration values and what their priorities are.”

He added the premium increase would be difficult for the plan’s participants to shoulder because people who enroll in the program do not usually have money to spare.