The state’s Medicaid director made the case for Gov. Scott Walker’s Medicaid proposal Thursday, part of a discussion among researchers on federal health care law. 

Medicaid Director Brett Davis’ remarks at Union South were part of a University of Wisconsin’s La Follette School symposium on the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act. Davis emphasized Walker’s plan would reduce government dependence as well as the uninsured population in the state.

“We all share a common goal,” Davis said. “Access to health care does improve lives. We just fundamentally believe it doesn’t have to be just Medicaid insurance.”

Walker rejected the full Medicaid expansion made optional under a Supreme Court decision last year. His rejection depends on the Legislature agreeing with him, although Democrats have said a few Republican senators oppose Walker’s plan.

His plan would make Medicaid available to everyone in poverty and move everyone above poverty, which is about $11,000 for an individual, into private insurance. 

“For the first time in state history, we will be covering everybody in the state who lives in poverty,” Davis said.

Davis asked attendees for help in outreach and getting people signed up for Medicaid and private insurance exchanges, where enrollees can get some subsidies from the federal government.

Democrats have criticized Walker’s plan for covering about 5,000 fewer people, as well as rejecting significant federal funds and costing the state more. Davis said criticisms over the fiscal impacts do not take everything into account, such as administrative costs and decreasing federal funds.

“It’s not as simple as saying we’re leaving money on the table,” Davis said.

Critics have pointed to Arizona accepting the expansion under the condition that it can pull out of it any time if federal funds do reduce. When asked about why Walker did not take a similar approach, Davis said they thought about it but repeated the same risks from the last question.

Davis said he expects the federal government to accept Walker’s plan, as President Barack Obama wants to cover everyone under poverty like Walker’s plan would do. 

UW public affairs and economic professor Thomas DeLeire, director of La Follette School, explained two different studies that could show the impacts of a Medicaid expansion in Wisconsin. 

Both studies, including one based in Wisconsin, showed an expansion would increase access to primary care and improve peoples’ health, DeLeire said. 

Disagreements, however, remain on costs and whether an expansion would increase emergency room visits and hospitalizations, he added.