Wisconsin Legislative Committee Affirms Walker Medicaid Decision

Published June 26, 2013

Republican lawmakers in control of the state’s purse strings rejected federal dollars to expand Medicaid coverage in Wisconsin, backing up Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s decision not to accept the expansion.

The Joint Finance Committee, controlled by Republicans, followed through on Gov. Walker’s February announcement that his administration would not seek some $4.4 billion in federal money to expand BadgerCare, the state’s Medicaid program. The committee’s decision turns down nearly $500 million in additional federal taxpayer dollars over the next two years.

Republicans did, however, approve spending an additional $72 million to compensate Wisconsin hospitals with at least 6 percent of annual inpatients covered by Medicaid. About $43 million of that appropriation would come from the federal government.

The JFC-passed motion also includes fallback language to continue Medicaid coverage for people earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level if the federal government fails to set up health insurance exchanges in the state. And the committee approved language covering people in counties that don’t have health plans offered through the exchange system.

“People might not like having copayments, people might not like having to pay into the system of health care, but you know what … health care is changing,” said committee co-chair Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills. “I’m proud of our governor to have the courage to put forward a reform package that is going to help us.”

Reducing Medicaid

Walker’s plan lowers the income limit for BadgerCare eligibility to individuals earning up to $11,490, families of four earning up to $23,550, or any other scenario up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level. Currently, people at up to 200 percent of the poverty line are eligible for the state’s Medicaid program in most cases, but there is a waiting list.

“With these Medicaid reforms, we will preserve an essential safety net for our neediest, while protecting our state’s taxpayers from uncertainty,” Walker said in his February remarks.

Legislators casting votes in favor of Walker’s plan were met with the chants of “Shame! Shame!”—a somewhat common refrain at the protest-prone Wisconsin Capitol.

Hundreds of activists favoring Medicaid expansion, some wearing blue fist T-shirts indicating support for government employee unions, filled the committee hearing room and spilled into two overflow rooms. Several were tossed from the hearing for chanting, shouting out, and, in one case, shrieking.

“We are the resources,” the woman yelled. “We want our basic needs met.”

Push for More Dollars

Democrats on the committee pleaded with Republicans to buck Walker and take the federal funding. Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, suggested presidential aspirations guided Walker’s Medicaid decision.

“It’s the responsible thing to do for us and for [the BadgerCare population],” said Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee. “How we can turn back $120 million is just mind-blowing. I don’t know how we can do that. I think it’s just a huge mistake,” he said.

Richards said many people who will no longer be covered by BadgerCare won’t purchase insurance on the federal exchange. But according to Republicans, rejecting the Medicaid funding was a logical decision.

“I think it’s a tough decision to make, it’s a tough reform, but I think you have to remember we did not choose for Obamacare to become the law of the land,” Darling said. 

Increased Coverage

Under Walker’s plan, a single person earning $16,000 a year would pay $521 a year, or $43 a month, for a subsidized silver plan. Maximum out-of-pocket costs would be $2,250, according to the Henry Kaiser Family Foundation subsidy calculator.

“Under our plan, everyone in Wisconsin will have access to affordable health care options, and we are building upon Wisconsin’s strong track record of providing affordable health care to our people,” Walker said in a statement applauding the JFC’s action.

Walker has made it clear he doesn’t trust the federal government to follow through on its pledge to pay for 90 percent of the expanded Medicaid rolls over time. He reiterated that belief after the finance committee’s approval.

“These reforms strengthen Wisconsin’s safety net for those in need, while protecting our taxpayers from unnecessary risk and the fiscal uncertainty coming out of Washington, DC,” Walker said.

Ryan Ekvall ([email protected]) writes for Wisconsin Reporter.