Several county leaders across Wisconsin have begun forming an alternate Medicaid expansion plan for their counties in the event Gov. Scott Walker’s health care proposal is approved, although top state officials say this Democrat-sponsored alternative is not likely to gain traction.
Democratic state legislators have been pushing back on Walker’s health care plan, which was announced after the governor rejected the federal Medicaid expansion in February despite possible changes by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
If the Democrats’ health care plan does not pan out, county leaders will look to ask for federal dollars so individual counties could expand the health care programs on their own, Citizen Action of Wisconsin Executive Director Robert Kraig said.
The way this would work, Kraig said, is the counties would have to go through the state to request extra Medicaid funding, then Wisconsin could receive a “demonstration project” in which the state distributes federal funds to various counties.
Under full Medicaid expansion, which Walker opposes, the federal government would pay 100 percent of the costs until 2016. The aid level would gradually drop to a permanent 90 percent level in 2020. However, Walker has said the government would not be able to keep up those funding levels given the federal debt.
Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, acknowledged there is no confirmation yet on whether or not the federal government would approve their plan.
“We haven’t seen anyone jump up and down and say, ‘Absolutely, we’re going to send you this money,’” Sargent said. “However, the fact that we have not heard a straight-up ‘no’ means we want to continue moving forward and doing what we can here.”
She said she has not yet talked with Dane County Executive Joe Parisi. His spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on the proposal.
Brendan Conway, spokesperson for Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, said Abele had inquired with U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and the federal health department about the issue multiple times. Both responded to the inquiries by saying it likely would not be possible, especially if the proposal does not have state support.
Sargent said she hopes counties can come together and pressure Walker to talk to the federal government or at least “not stand in [their] way.”
Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services did not respond for comment, although spokesperson Stephanie Smiley told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the plan would not go through.
Kraig said Walker’s decision was “bad fiscal policy” and politically motivated, as seen through his rejection of federal tax dollars coming back to Wisconsin taxpayers.
In her testimony to the Joint Finance Committee on Wednesday, DHS Secretary-elect Kitty Rhoades said Walker’s plan brings Medicaid back to helping the poorest citizens in Wisconsin.
Walker’s plan lifts a cap on Medicaid that currently has a waitlist of more than 100,000 people, many of whom are in poverty, and moves those under the poverty level in Medicaid and moves those above the line to private insurance.
“The [plan] refocuses Medicaid on the population for which it was created: people in poverty,” Rhoades said. “The governor’s proposal will ensure long-term sustainability and predictability for a program that serves those who have the most need.”