About 130,000 low-income adults who have no children have signed up for Wisconsin’s Medicaid program, creating controversy for Gov. Scott Walker. That’s about 30,000 more than were expected.
Last year Walker, with the consent of the Republican-controlled Legislature, rejected a full expansion of Medicaid offered under the Affordable Health Care Act (“Obamacare”). Newly covered recipients would have been fully funded by the feds through the 2016 fiscal year, declining to 90 percent by 2020 and thereafter.
Walker’s alternative was a mixed bag, changing who is covered in Wisconsin and eligibility rules. All adults with incomes at or below the federal poverty guidelines would be covered, but coverage of adults in families between 100 percent and 200 percent of the poverty guidelines was eliminated.
Under Walker’s shift, the federal government is providing only 59 percent rather than 100 percent of the Medicaid cost for the newly-eligible recipients. State taxpayers are picking up the difference. Initially budget experts expected the cost to state taxpayers to be $119 million for the current biennium. New budget figures have raised the cost to $206 million. The projected difference for 2015-2017 would grow to $261 million.
The federal government would have provided an additional $561 million if Walker had adopted a full expansion of Medicaid. In addition to the $206 million in this biennium, total Medicaid expansion would have resulted in a net increase of $355 million to pay for health care in Wisconsin.
“In the business world, CEOs get fired for decisions like that,” said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke.
Walker and Republicans are scrambling for to respond to criticism for their stand against Medicaid expansion in Wisconsin. The governor says he is protecting state taxpayers by rejecting the additional federal money because the federal deficit is so high it might halt its share.
“We believe confidently going forward the federal government is likely to renege on its promises on Medicaid to the states,” the governor explained. Perhaps Walker is counting on Republicans winning the presidency in 2016.
Wisconsin need not fear for the future. The U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid has been asked whether a state could opt out of full expansion of Medicaid. It replied: “Yes, a state may choose whether and when to expand, and if a state covers the expansion group, it may decide to drop the coverage.”
Known as the dean of state Capitol correspondents, Matt Pommer has been covering Madison for 36 years. He writes this column for the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.