March 2, 2015

State could save millions with Medicaid expansion

A report from the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau says a decision by Republicans not to accept federal funds to expand the state’s Medicaid programs will cost Wisconsin about $206 million during the current state budget. Kevin Kane with Citizen Action of Wisconsin says that’s about $100 million more than originally estimated, and is further evidence that “the state is covering fewer people and paying more” under the Republican plan.

Governor Scott Walker and the GOP-controlled Legislature opted for a plan in the last state budget that expanded Medicaid to all resident living at or below the federal poverty line (FPL), but pushed those just above it on to the federal health care exchanges. Kane says many of those people, who make under 138 percent of FPL, are still unable to afford those plans though. He argues that taking the federal funds would help 87,000 more people gain access to coverage.

Republicans have criticized the memo for failing to address what would happen if federal funding is eventually cut-off. State Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), who co-chairs the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, argues that “counting on the federal government to pay for a program is like counting on a stranger to pick up the tab when they already have one foot out the door. There is no such thing as free federal money. It is all taxpayer funded. We all pay for it and when – not if – the federal government can’t deliver on their bribe, real people could lose coverage or have their choices limited.”

Kane admits that the money could go away eventually, but argues it’s better for people to have coverage right now. Instead of focusing on “imaginary possibilities,” he says the lawmakers should be working to help the many people who continue to live without medical coverage.