Wisconsin’s poorest residents and every taxpayer will pay a high price for the governor’s plan to give Obamacare a poke in the eye
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker detests the Affordable Care Act. Like many conservatives, he finds fault with the law’s expansion of the federal government’s role in health care. Like every American citizen, he’s entitled to his opinion. Like every elected official, he’s entitled to use his office as a soapbox to promulgate his views. But when he indulges his ideology at the expense of the taxpayers, he should be ready to explain how this serves the interests of the people of Wisconsin.
No such explanation has come from the governor concerning his decision to turn down billions of dollars in federal Medicaid assistance. There have, however, been explanations by health and insurance analysts and even Walker’s health secretary of the impact of the governor’s decision, and they are disconcerting.
According to Health Secretary Dennis Smith, the governor’s alternative to accepting federal money would require state taxpayers to pay $650 million in Medicaid costs over the next two years—costs that would be paid by the federal government if Wisconsin would agree to expand Medicaid under the health care law. What’s more, Walker’s proposal would cover fewer low-income residents than the ACA option.
Walker’s plan is to force about 87,000 people now on Medicaid out of the program and into new insurance exchanges created by the ACA in order to accommodate extending Medicaid coverage to an additional 82,000 needy people who currently don’t qualify.
The plan is complex and in terms of the number of people covered inadequate. On the other hand, the federal program Walker rejected is simple: The federal government pays 100% of the cost of expanding Medicaid to cover all Wisconsin residents eligible under federal guidelines (28,000 more than Walker’s plan would cover) for the next three years and 90% thereafter.
Walker used to be a member of a large chorus of Republican governors who lustily sang their contempt for Obamacare, but that group is shrinking as the benefits of the law to states become apparent. Seven GOP governors, several with records at least as conservative as Walker’s, recently agreed to join the states participating in the federal program.
Gov. Rick Scott of Florida had been adamant in his opposition to the ACA until last week, when he reversed himself and announced he wants his state to take the federal money and expand Medicaid.
Walker could learn something from Scott’s concise and utterly logical explanation for his decision: “To be clear: our options are either having Floridians pay to fund this program in other states while denying health care to our citizens, or using federal funding to help the poorest in our state with the Medicaid program as we explore other health care reforms.”
Note the part about funding other states’ programs. If Walker’s decision stands, Wisconsin residents will in effect be helping to pay for Medicaid in other states while getting no help to pay for their own Medicaid program. Federal Medicaid money not spent in Wisconsin will go elsewhere. Opting out will not save a penny in federal tax dollars.
The only practical reason the governor gives for refusing the money under the ACA is the notion that the federal government could conceivably not be able to make good on its commitment to pay 90% of the cost after 2016. That’s mere speculation, and even if it came to pass Wisconsin would have the option of replacing the federal program with one of its own.
The reasons for accepting the deal offered by the federal government are humanitarian and financial and both are persuasive: It would give coverage to more people who cannot afford health insurance and it would do it without burdening state taxpayers.
But Walker’s plan is not about such down-to-earth matters. It’s about giving a poke in the eye to Obamacare. Wisconsin taxpayers should not have to pay for that indulgence.
The Legislature should block the Walker plan.