By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday announced he will reject federal Medicaid expansion in Wisconsin, instead reforming the state’s program to move hundreds of thousands of uninsured Wisconsinites to private insurance and the federal health care exchange established under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Turning down some $4 billion from the federal government, Walker says, is part of his plan to wean Wisconsin residents off of what he called “generational dependence on government.”
Under Walker’s proposal, 224,580 currently uninsured Wisconsinites would obtain health insurance, according to the governor.
“With these Medicaid reforms, we will preserve an essential safety net for our neediest, while protecting our state’s taxpayers from uncertainty,” Walker said at the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Business Day at Monona Terrace in Madison. WMC is the state’s largest business lobby.
The governor plans to reduce the qualifying threshold for Wisconsin’s BadgerCare Plus program, moving others currently on the program to the federal exchange or private health care. The federal poverty level for an individual is currently $11,490 and for a family of four it is $23,550.
Individuals earning up to $22,980 and families earning up to $47,100 would qualify for the federal exchange.
While Walker turned down the federal expansion of Medicaid in the state, Wisconsin taxpayers will still pick up some of the tab at the federal level for states that do accept Obama’s billions, as well as the Wisconsinites Walker would force into the exchanges.
But Walker said his plan was a way to escape the “pigeon hole” the federal government put the state in. Under the ACA mandate, 90,691 more Wisconsinites would qualify for Medicaid and 161,987 would move to the private market or the federal exchange. That would provide about 28,000 more people with health insurance in Wisconsin than Walker’s plan.
Walker and fellow state Republicans have said they are reluctant to take money for a program that the state would, at least in part, have to pay for later. The governor earlier balked at state-created health care exchanges under the ACA, or Obamacare, as opponents call it, instead leaving it up to the federal government to set up the exchanges. Walker was among a handful of conservative governors considering opting out of the federally-backed Medicaid expansion. Some hardcore conservatives, like Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, decided to take the money.
Had Walker accepted the Medicaid expansion cash, Wisconsin would be on the hook for $205 million between 2014-19, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, part of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The federal government would pick up the remaining $4.25 billion during the period.
Referring to PowerPoint slides of the nation’s $16.5 trillion debt, Walker said he didn’t trust the federal government to pay for the program in the long term.
Indeed, the federal government has decreased Medicaid matching funds by $1.33 billion in the past few years. Last budget cycle, Walker injected $1.24 billion into the state’s Medicaid program. Walker plans to increase Medicaid spending again by $645 million this budget cycle.
Democrats insisted Walker was turning down a bargain.
Throwing rhetorical bombs worthy of MSNBC talk show hosts, Assembly minority leader Peter Barca complained that, “Saying yes should have been the easiest budget decision Gov. Walker had to make. Instead, he placed support from right-wing extremists before the needs of Wisconsin taxpayers, vulnerable citizens and unemployed job seekers.”
Walker said his plan would affect only nondisabled adults between the ages 19 and 64. Nearly 230,000, or 47 percent of currently uninsured Wisconsinites in that category would move to the federal exchange, resulting in a reduction of 5,417 from Wisconsin’s Medicaid rolls and 224,580 uninsured adults.
Nearly 1.2 million Wisconsinites are currently enrolled in a BadgerCare program, the state’s version of Medicaid. The state spends about $3 billion a year for Medicaid, while the federal government picks up more than $4 billion.
Contact Ekvall at [email protected]