Medicaid costs will be under the microscope of the legislature’s Audit Bureau. At approximately $6.7 billion, the state’s medical assistance programs represent the second largest item in the state budget, a fact noted by state Senator Rob Cowles (R-Green Bay), co-chair of the legislature’s Joint Audit Committee. “Roughly 20 percent of Wisconsin citizens are receiving some kind of Medicaid benefits,” said Cowles. “It’s obviously something huge that we need to get our arms around.”
Much of the growth in medical assistance came through expansion of BadgerCare under the Doyle administration. Kitty Rhoades, a former state legislator who’s now Deputy Secretary of Health Services, says Medicaid programs will be closely scrutinized. “The one thing that I have always stressed is that we need to insure that those who actually need our help, that we’re there to help,” said Rhoades. “But that we have, not only programs that work within the resources available, but that they’re sustainable. And we have had some serious discussions about the sustainability of programs.”
But are there plans within the administration of Governor Scott Walker to opt out of the federal Medicaid program? That’s something Walker’s new Secretary of Health Services, is on record as suggesting states ought to consider. “One out of every five people in the state of Wisconsin rely on Medicaid or BadgerCare. And so it would impact a lot of our constituents” state Senator Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point) told Rhoades. “That has not been discussed as an option for the state of Wisconsin, to make you feel better,” said Rhoades. “That is not an issue.”
Rhoades also noted that some of the expansions of medical assistance went “tremendously beyond” the definitions of Medicaid. “They were proposed that they would be self-funding, and therefore cost neutral. I think the audit will help us resolve the answer to that . . . whether these actually were self-funding, or whether they were being subsidized in ways we weren’t aware of,” Rhoades said. “For the most part, the previous administration pursued a dramatic expansion of Medicaid enrollment, seemingly without regard to rising costs or long term stability,” said state Senator Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) who, like Cowles, has been pushing for the Medicaid audit for the past several years. “Only in the past year was there a great deal of emphasis placed on cost containment.”
The committee unanimously approved the audit of the state’s medical assistance budget, which is expected to take several months to complete, although a preliminary report should be available in June.