Democrats pushed for Gov. Scott Walker to accept a Medicaid expansion at a Capitol news conference Tuesday, citing a study from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau that said the state would save money by doing so.
Under the expansion the state would save $65.9 million from 2013 until 2016, the LFB found in its report. For the next four years after 2016, the state would pay $66.7 million more, although that is 65 times less than the $4.38 billion the federal government would pay with Wisconsin’s expansion. Those projections are based off 175,000 new enrollees in the state’s Medicaid program by 2015.
The cost-sharing ratio from the federal government is also much higher under the expansion, at 100 percent until gradually declining to 90 percent in 2020 and beyond. The federal government currently pays 60 percent of the existing Medicaid program, and the state pays 40 percent.
Democrats, as well as the state’s hospital association and medical association, support the expansion because of the increase in health care as well as the fiscal projections.
The expansion would increase the eligibility level for Medicaid to those who earn less than 133 percent below the federal poverty level. The state has a program for those that earn less than 200 percent of the FPL, but Democrats point to the 150,000 people on the program’s wait list as a sign the program needs some fixing.
The expansion was mandatory when President Barack Obama’s health care law passed, but the Supreme Court decided last year states have the option to expand their programs. As a result, some Republican governors have turned down the expansion, although Ohio Gov. John Kasich accepted it Monday, joining Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer in doing so.
Wisconsin’s Democrats asked the governor to accept the expansion, and in case he refuses it, for the Legislature to pass it.
“Strengthening BadgerCare isn’t about loving or hating Obamacare,” Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, said. “It’s about knowing a good deal when you see one. And this is a good deal.”
Dr. Jeff Huebner, a Madisonian who serves as vice president of the National Physicians Alliance, said Wisconsin should take the already allocated funds because it would “save lives.”
Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said if Wisconsin turns down the expansion, the federal money Wisconsin taxpayers have already provided would go to another state. He compared the expansion to the high-speed rail funding Walker turned down early on in his term.
“It’s our money, and the governor has a track record of turning down our money that was sent out to Washington,” Erpenbach said.
Walker has not made a decision on the expansion yet, and it is not yet clear when he will, as there is no specific deadline for him to do so.
Cullen Werwie, Walker’s spokesperson, said the expansion is still up in the air because the nation’s fiscal problems could lead to changes in federal aid.
“Given current fiscal uncertainties, the federal funding contained [in] the bill today remains in question,” Werwie said in a statement.
Under current law, Werwie said, the state will have to pay $664 billion over the next two years to keep the state’s program going. Werwie said roughly 40 percent of those costs come from federal funding reductions, increased costs from the health care law and an increase in payments for Medicaid coverage.
On his Facebook page, Walker put it more bluntly, telling his supporters to “think about it.”
“Congress can’t pay for what they mandate today,” Walker said. “What makes us think they can pay for even bigger costs in the future.”
On one side of the Assembly parlor Tuesday, the Democrats held their news conference. On the other, dozens of Medicaid expansion supporters clapped at the end of statements, and some held signs that said “Say Yes to BadgerCare.”
After reporters finished asking their questions, one supporter said, “I have a question. Do you like our posters”?
Legislators and attendees laughed and applauded at the question before attendees proceeded to deliver about 3,000 petition signatures to Walker’s office that asked him to take the expansion.