The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee is standing by Governor Walker’s decision to reject federal funding to expand the Wisconsin’s Medicaid programs.
The budget provision adopted on a 12-4 party line vote Tuesday allows the state’s poorest residents to enroll in BadgerCare, while pushing those living above the federal poverty line toward federal exchanges. State Representative Pat Strachota (R-West Bend) defended the plan as the responsible way to deal with implementing the federal health care law, while lamenting the fact that Wisconsin even has to make changes to comply with the contentious overhaul.
Wisconsin is one of more than a dozen states to reject federal dollars that would allow those living at up to 133 percent above the federal poverty line to enroll in Medicaid programs. Democrats argue the decision means Wisconsin will miss out on about $120 million in federal funding and end up costing state taxpayers more money up front. However, Governor Walker and Republicans have expressed concerns about the long term availability of that funding.
State Representative Dean Knudson (R-Hudson) was one of several Republicans to point out that the federal dollars come from taxpayers as well, adding that the GOP plan was less expensive than an alternative offered by Democrats, once both state and federal dollars were considered.
The plan does include a $30 million increase in state dollars and $43.5 million in federal money to compensate hospitals for treating low-income patients and those who lack insurance. Democrats argue the provision shows the GOP recognizes its plan will fall short, which state Representative Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) called a “pitifully small and weak lifeline” that does nothing for people who need help.
Republicans did approve the removal of a cap on coverage for childless adults living below the poverty line, which will expand coverage to almost 83,000 people. They also added protections that will allow the state to continue providing coverage for families living at up to 200 percent of the federal poverty limit, if an exchange system is not in place by October 15 of this year.
Debate over the Medicaid provision raged for hours Tuesday, as the Finance Committee tries to wrap up its work on the two year state budget. The meeting was stopped at several points because of outbursts from protesters in the audience, who were quickly removed by Capitol Police. The panel is expected to continue meeting late into the night, with provisions dealing with school funding, a statewide expansion of private school vouchers, and an income tax cut still on the table.