Medicaid Grows ‘By Leaps and Bounds’ in Wis.

Published May 1, 2009

Wisconsin’s state Medicaid program is facing “administrative cuts” due to a 2009 budget shortage, Gov. Jim Doyle (D) has announced. Enrollment in the Badger State’s taxpayer-funded insurance program for the poor has grown by 238,000 since 2003, with the fastest growth coming in the past year.

Some 926,000 residents, or about one in six people in the state, are currently enrolled in Medicaid, at a cost to state taxpayers of $5 billion annually. Though the program is facing a $1.4 billion deficit in the next two-year budget, Doyle remains “committed to protecting eligibility and health care programs for children.”

Distinguishing Coverage, Care

Analysts responded to Doyle’s announcement by pointing out expanded coverage does not equal better care. They call instead for Wisconsin to embrace market reforms to solve the state’s deepening Medicaid finance woes.

“Expanded coverage doesn’t guarantee anyone access to care,” said Twila Brase, president of the Citizens’ Council on Health Care. “It just guarantees that the state has more control over what type of health care the [people who are] covered get.”

In addition, Brase said, “Children have the least medical needs of any population. A lot of people don’t think about it, but the fact is it’s probably less expensive to take care of children when they come in with catastrophic need than to cover them all when probably most of them come in with what is very inexpensive wellness. Sick children are [a small] minority.”

Calling for Market Alternatives

“Wisconsin ranks close to the top when it comes to citizens already being covered by health insurance, whether they’re employed in the private or public sectors or eligible for one of many Medicaid programs,” said Joan Hansen, a tax and policy advisor for the Wisconsin-based MacIver Institute for Public Policy.

“Instead of expanding Medicaid, [we need] a free-market approach to health care coverage that starts with transparency in health care costs, procedures, and quality of care,” Hansen said.

“There’s more than one way to [impose mandated] universal health care and socialized medicine, and expanding Medicaid programs is one way,” said Brase.

Colleen Watson ([email protected]) writes from California. Joe Emanuel ([email protected]) writes from Georgia.