Wisconsin’s Walker Rejects Federal Medicaid Expansion

Published February 25, 2013

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker 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 health care law.

Turning down some $4 billion from the federal government, Walker said, 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.

Exchange Subsidies, Not Medicaid

The governor plans to lower 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.

Walker said his plan was a way to escape the “pigeon hole” the federal government put the state in. Under Obama’s law, 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 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.

Turning Down “Free” Money

Assembly minority leader Peter Barca insisted Walker was turning down a bargain.

“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,” Barca said.

But 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. Had Walker accepted the Medicaid expansion cash, Wisconsin would be on the hook for $205 million between 2014 and 2019, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Citing 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, pointing out the federal government has decreased Medicaid matching funds by $1.33 billion in the past few years.

“Government can provide a hand up, but should not provide a permanent handout,” Walker said. “We need to break cycles of generational dependence on the government.”

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