News from around Wisconsin at 5:58 p.m. CDT

Wis. advocates gear up for health exchange launchMILWAUKEE (AP) — Community organizers throughout Wisconsin plan to begin offering sessions as early as Oct. 2 to help people being removed from the state’s Medicaid program next year assess other health care options.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker rejected federal money to expand Medicaid coverage, and instead the state will reduce enrollment by an estimated 92,000 people. The state plans to start sending letters later this month to those who will lose coverage after Dec. 31.

Those residents are expected to seek health insurance through a new online exchange being set up by the federal government. The exchange will allow people to shop for health insurance and compare plans, but advocates worry that many low-income residents have limited access to the Internet and could have difficulty figuring out their best options.

“There could be issues around literacy. They may not be English-speaking, they may be homeless. They could get the notice in late September, and they may not understand it,” said Molly Bandt, director of Covering Kids and Families in Madison. “There are still things to work out — although on the positive end, there’s a lot of energy in trying to get the word out.”

Covering Kids and Families, which works to get children and families enrolled in Medicaid programs, is among the groups planning seminars at job centers, schools and libraries across the state. Trainers will discuss the new law, explain what is and isn’t changing and help people figure out which plans work best for them.

The Milwaukee Health Care Partnership has been asking churches, community leaders and advocacy organizations to help reach out to low-income people losing their coverage. The idea is that it’d be most effective to reach people through those they already know and trust, executive director Joy Tapper said. Pastors and neighbors can contact Medicaid recipients, let them know about the coming change and direct them to the partnership for more information, she said.

That strategy worked well in Massachusetts, where organizers identified word of mouth as one of the most critical factors in successful outreach, Tapper said.

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Milwaukee archdiocese seeks abuse settlementsMILWAUKEE (AP) — The Archdiocese of Milwaukee may be poised for a settlement with its insurance companies that could fast-track a resolution of its long-running bankruptcy case. But attorneys for sex-abuse victims are objecting, saying those who have claims against the church deserve a voice in any settlement talks.

The archdiocese has asked a judge to stay its lawsuit against insurance companies for 60 days. The move that would allow the parties to enter mediation. Presumably it would also put on hold the judge’s pending decision on whether the insurers are liable for sex-abuse claims against the church, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported (http://bit.ly/141ggndhttp://bit.ly/141ggnd ).

But victims’ attorneys oppose the stay because they want the case to keep moving forward. They’re also concerned that if the victims are denied input, the archdiocese and insurance companies could agree on an unreasonably low settlement figure.

“We need a decision on the insurance coverage to guide the parties,” said attorney Michael Finnegan, whose law firm represents most of the 570-plus sex-abuse victims who filed claims in the bankruptcy. “And we are concerned about any talks between the insurers and the archdiocese that do not include survivors.”

Archdiocese spokesman Jerry Topczewski said in an email the church is committed to doing whatever it can to move the bankruptcy forward.

The motion comes at a critical point in the bankruptcy. U.S. District Judge Rudolph T. Randa is expected to rule soon on whether the church can use its insurance policies to fund a bankruptcy settlement. The policies, which could be worth tens of millions of dollars, are one of the last large pools of money available for settlement purposes.

Randa has already ruled that the church couldn’t be forced to tap any of the $50 million or more it holds in a cemetery trust because doing so would burden its free exercise of religion under the First Amendment. The creditors have appealed that decision, but the appeal is on hold pending Randa’s decision to on a request from credits to recuse himself from that case.

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Judge dismisses claims by 259 Neenah teachersNEENAH, Wis. (AP) — A Winnebago County judge dismissed a class-action lawsuit this week in which more than 250 Neenah teachers sought to recover more than $61 million in post-retirement benefits.

Judge Karen L. Seifert ruled Friday that a school district can’t be targeted by a class-action suit, The Post-Crescent Media reported (http://post.cr/17X4WtMhttp://post.cr/17X4WtM ).

Seifert said she would only consider claims filed by people who included itemized lists of the relief they sought. Of the 261 teachers named in the suit, only two had filed the required paperwork. Seifert dismissed the other 259 claims.

The remaining claims are by Bruce Moriarty, who’s seeking $257,000, and Robert Townsend, who is asking for nearly $206,000.

In February, the Neenah school board denied all 261 claims.

The teachers alleged that benefits they’d been promised were taken away without notice. They also said officials had used the lucrative benefits to justify paying them lower salaries.

The Neenah district scaled back its retirement plans under Act 10, which limits most public unions’ bargaining to base wage increases. The district’s move was part of an effort to avoid more than $100 million in costs over the next 25 years.

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Number of suicides in Brown County raising concernGREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Brown County has averaged nearly one suicide per week this year, raising fresh concerns from a local suicide-prevention coalition.

A Press-Gazette Media report (http://gbpg.net/165eHkOhttp://gbpg.net/165eHkO ) says there have been 28 suicides through August. That’s one more than all of 2011 and six fewer than last year.

Medical examiner Al Klimek is a member of the coalition. He says the group is stepping up its efforts to address factors that can lead to suicide.

The efforts include educational outreach. Coalition members offer training sessions to help people recognize signs that someone might be suicidal, and let them know where they can refer individuals who need help.

The coalition was formed in 2007, when the number of suicides peaked at 40. Other members of the coalition include more than 25 organizations and survivors.

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Information from: Press-Gazette Media, http://www.greenbaypressgazette.comhttp://www.greenbaypressgazette.com

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