Medicaid provides healthcare coverage for low-income Wisconsinites. In Wisconsin, the program is known as BadgerCare Plus.
Last week, Governor Tony Evers called for state lawmakers to consider expanding Medicaid eligibility during what’s known as a special session.
But while the governor can call for lawmakers to meet on a pressing topic, he can’t make them pass any laws. The Republican-led legislature ended today’s special session in less than a minute — taking no action on the proposed expansion and shutting down any debate during the session.
Medicaid expansion was originally part of Governor Evers’ biennial budget proposal, which has since been gutted by the legislature’s budget-writing committee. Under the governor’s proposal, more than 90,000 additional Wisconsinites would have qualified for Medicaid coverage.
Specifically, the proposal would have increased eligibility to people making up to about $17,800 a year. Right now, only people making up to $12,900 are eligible for BadgerCare.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that for a family of four, the income cap would have jumped from $26,500 to $36,500 a year.
But Evers’ bid to bolster Medicaid is less an “expansion” and more of a “restoration,” according to Donna Friedsam, a researcher with UW-Madison’s Institute for Research on Poverty.
Friedsam says that, prior to the Affordable Care Act, Wisconsin’s medicaid program covered parents and caretaker adults at up to double the federal poverty level.
“So, when the ACA came along, it said all states should cover everybody, no matter who they are, up to a certain level of 138% of the federal poverty level,” she told WORT. In 2021, 138% of the federal poverty level is about $17,700 for a single person.
Evers’ expansion would have brought the state’s Badgercare policy in line with that 138% coverage level.
Friedsam says when the Affordable Care Act came around, former Governor Scott Walker saw an opportunity to reduce BadgerCare eligibility.
Says Friedsam: “And Governor Walker said, ‘Oh, here’s an opportunity for us to remove some people from Medicaid.’ So he reduced the eligibility level for parents. It used to be 200% and he reduced it to 100% of the federal poverty level, because the Affordable Care Act created something else outside of Medicaid called ‘the marketplaces’ where people could get subsidies to purchase private health insurance if their income was above 100% of the federal poverty level. So Governor Walker said, ‘We’re not going to do the Medicaid expansion up to 138%, and not only that, we’re going to reduce the coverage for parents and caretakers.’”
With today’s move to dismiss BadgerCare expansion. Wisconsin will miss out on a one-time, one billion dollar federal bonus.
That money is being offered as an incentive to the twelve states that have not yet expanded their Medicaid programs — 38 other states, and Washington D.C., have enacted Medicaid expansions.
But state GOP lawmakers argue expansion could saddle the state with costs in the future if federal funding dries up.
Top Republican lawmakers outlined as much in an open letter delivered to Governor Evers today, arguing that BadgerCare functions just fine as it is.
In that letter, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, and budget committee co-chairs Mark Born and Howard Marklein wrote that expanding the program would lead to more people on a taxpayer funded government program and more expensive private plans for others.
Speaking at a press conference earlier today, Gordon Hintz, the Assembly’s Democratic Minority Leader, pointed out that other Republican-led states have authorized medicaid expansions.
“Iowa, Indiana and Michigan — neighboring states that were led by Republican governors at the time, more than six years ago — all accepted Medicaid expansion in order to provide low-income residents with better health insurance,” Hintz told reporters. “So it’s not Republican opposition, it’s Wisconsin Republican opposition.”
Friedsam says it’s a missed opportunity not to take the federal subsidies that would come with expansion.
“I don’t have a crystal ball, so I can’t say whether there will be better incentives down the line, but I can say that this is a substantial amount of money,” she says. “It’s a difficult thing to imagine that the state is bypassing that amount of money because of differences in perspective on the value of enrolling people in the Medicaid program.”
The Associated Press reports that Wisconsin would have saved around $2.8 billion dollars between 2013 and 2019 had it accepted the expansion sooner.
According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, dismissing the most recent proposed expansion could cost Wisconsin $635 million in savings over the next two years.
PHOTO: WORT News / Flickr