With talk of compassion, promises and faith, Wisconsin legislators passed a bill to delay implementing BadgerCare and federal exchange transitions for three months during a special Assembly session Wednesday.
The bill passed 64-32, with five Democrats joining the Republicans in favor of the bill. It now heads to the Senate for approval.
Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said passing the bill to delay moving more than 70,000 families off BadgerCare until heathcare.gov and its system were effective was a “compassionate choice.”
“I would call that compassion,” Vos said. “I would call that helping the federal government who broke their promises, keep their word.”
The bill, which passed the Joint Finance Committee Monday by a 14-2 vote, would keep the 77,000 families who were expected to sign up with the federal health care exchange before Jan. 1 on BadgerCare until March 31.
However, due to the delay, 83,000 childless, young adults will not be moved onto BadgerCare until April, as the budget bill required.
Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Fort Atkinson, expressed deep concern with using the word compassion to describe the Assembly vote.
“You know, if my mom was here, she would say, ‘Compassionate my foot!’” Jorgensen said. “You are not being compassionate, so let’s throw that word away. On your talking points on your desk, cross it off.”
Republicans also rejected the Democrats’ amendment, which would have requested that federal Medicaid dollars be used to cover the 83,000 childless adults who were promised health care.
Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said the federal dollars are waiting to be used and are not as “questionable” as Republicans believe.
JFC co-chair Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said the Assembly had to hold a special session because of the failures of the federal government and the mistake of believing in it.
“The president of the United States’ signature program is an embarrassment to him, not us,” Nygren said. “We have been speaking for years about how this program would not work. And it didn’t work.”
In response to the Republican outcry over federal failure, Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, said the state’s health care system is in “crisis” not because of the failed website, but rather because of Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican majority.
Mason added that no other state besides Wisconsin have a similar situation because of the rejection of Medicaid dollars.
“The governor can’t have it both ways,” Mason said. “He can’t say that there is a failed federal program, but not acknowledge his complicity in that not working in Wisconsin because he failed to take federal Medicaid dollars.”
Democrats also requested the bill be referred to the Assembly Committee on Health. The motion was rejected.
Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, said referring the bill to committee would allow the Assembly to examine the consequences of all actions more closely and allow the chance for childless adults to come forward and speak about the delay of their health care coverage.
However, Vos said he would prefer the Assembly address the issue sooner rather than later, as delaying the decision would place more uncertainty into Wisconsin families.
The Senate will take up the bill Dec. 19.