Wisconsin made headlines this year as Governor Scott Walker and majority Republicans made several efforts to reduce the state’s role in implementing the Affordable Care Act, drawing harsh criticism from Democrats and advocates of health care reform. The controversy surrounding the issue easily made it one of the state’s most talked about stories of the year.
Governor Walker announced in February that he wanted to turn down federal funds to expand the state’s Medicaid programs. Instead, the governor wanted to fully open Wisconsin’s BadgerCare program to all residents living below the federal poverty line, while also pushing about 83,000 adults off the program and into the individual insurance marketplace. Walker said the decisi
on was “long term, the best route to take,” because it meant the state would not be relying on federal funding to cover a larger pool of people through BadgerCare and similar programs.
The plan also called for the state relying on a federally run health care exchange for consumers to purchase coverage, rather than having the state set up its own system. Republicans claimed the move would allow the state to take advantage of the resources already being spent at the federal level, although Democrats argued it would only lead to confusion and denied the state the opportunity to create a system tailored specifically for its residents.
Democrats charged the plan was based on pure politics and was part of a national GOP effort to weaken the Affordable Care Act roll-out. State Representative Cory Mason (D-Racine) said the changes to the health care system under Obamcare were designed to have Medicaid cover the cost gap for those living just above the poverty line. During hearings on the plan, Mason claimed the proposal “was an enormous tax on working people” because, even with subsidies, those living just above the federal poverty line would have a hard time paying for coverage.
The plan was approved in June as a part of the state budget, but the controversy reignited again in the fall. Technical glitches with the federal health exchange kept thousands of Americans from signing up for coverage, and deadlines started to be pushed back on the federal level. Those delays put the state’s shift in coverage for BadgerCare in jeopardy and prompted Governor Scott Walker to call a special session of the Legislature in late November. Walker wanted lawmakers to pass legislation that delayed changes to BadgerCare for three months, until the end of March 2014. The governor said “my hope is, and I think the the expectation is, that with that additional three months, that will be enough time for the federal government to make sure the website and the program is fully operational…and that we don’t have people falling through the cracks.”
The Republican-controlled Legislature approved the changes earlier this month and Governor Walker quickly signed them into law just days before Christmas.