The Blog

Governor Walker -- Cutting More From Medicaid Than Any Other State in the Nation

Wisconsin was once known for its BadgerCare program, and Republican governors like Tommy Thompson helped build it into a robust model for other states. That was all before Governor Walker got his hands on it.
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Governor Scott Walker has done it again. He has made national news, made a splash -- and certainly established his bona fide conservative credentials once more. But his actions come at a great cost for Wisconsin's low-income families and individuals.

Most Wisconsinites are aware that Wisconsin, under the leadership of Governor Walker, has decided to turn down mind-boggling levels of federal funding available for expanding access to BadgerCare (Wisconsin's Medicaid program). But many are unaware of the flipside of Walker's plans for BadgerCare: the governor and his co-conspirators have added insult to injury by cutting more people from Medicaid than any other state in the nation.

Now, in full disclosure: I'm a Democrat and a supporter of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). But I'm also a Wisconsinite, through and through. I know a couple of things about my fellow Wisconsinites. First, we're willing to lend one another a hand when a neighbor is in need -- or lacks something as basic as health care. Second, we expect our elected leaders to pass budgets that meet basic standards of fiscal common sense. Unfortunately, the governor has made the baffling decision to cover fewer people at a greater cost to our state.

In sum -- the governor has decided that rather than expanding eligibility under BadgerCare to all adults under 133 percent of the federal poverty line, and receiving full federal support, he will instead be making major changes to the program and eliminating BadgerCare coverage for thousands and thousands of people. Under the governor's plan, the current income eligibility level for parents and caregivers will be sliced in half, while childless adults below the poverty line will gain access to coverage. This means that approximately 90,000 Wisconsinites will be losing their existing Medicaid coverage.

These eligibility changes have several real-life negative consequences. For example, many parents and children who are currently on BadgerCare together will be split into separate health plans, making their family coverage unnecessarily complex. In addition, while some beneficiaries already pay a small premium each month, we expect that their contribution will increase once they are cut off from BadgerCare and have to purchase their own subsidized coverage in the health care exchanges. Simply put, people at 100 percent of the poverty line who are now funneled into the exchanges may have to pay more, even with the federal subsidies.

While the governor's defenders have noted that Wisconsin will be adding childless adults below 100 percent of the federal poverty level to Medicaid, I am loath to applaud the governor for covering people who would have already been covered by the Affordable Care Act. This year, the ACA provides every state in the nation with an astonishing, historic opportunity to expand, not contract, their Medicaid eligibility, at minimal cost over the next few years. The federal government covers 100 percent of the cost of coverage for newly eligible adults (up to 133 percent of the poverty line) for three years, and then phases down to 90 percent of the cost in 2020 and thereafter. This is obviously a very good deal, which is why so many states have seized the opportunity. Just four states in the country are cutting people from Medicaid eligibility. Maine will cut 35,000 people; Vermont is cutting 19,000; and Rhode Island 6,700. It's hard to believe it -- but Wisconsin's cuts add up to more than the other three states combined!

I've heard from friends on both sides of the aisle, and it pains all of us to hear of the astounding amount of money Wisconsin is leaving on the table. By declining the federal funding for Medicaid expansion, we will be on the hook to pay an additional $119 million this state budget period. The total additional amount that state taxpayers pay through the year 2021 could exceed $459 million -- an extraordinary and unnecessary burden. I fear Walker's judgment will be viewed as one of the most short-sighted budgetary decisions in Wisconsin's history.

Wisconsin was once known for its BadgerCare program, and Republican governors like Tommy Thompson helped build it into a robust model for other states. That was all before Governor Walker got his hands on it. Our state usually competes among a select few for the lowest rates of uninsured people. Today, we're leading the country by cutting the largest number of people from Medicaid's lifeline health care services.

The governor's own words tell the story of his motivation. When announcing his plan, he said, "I want to have fewer people in the state who are uninsured, but along with that I'd like to have fewer people in the state who are dependent on government."

It sickens me to think of Wisconsin's poor being forced out of the coverage they currently rely upon, into uncertainty -- all because their political leaders are prioritizing their own ideology and political ambitions. This is not the Wisconsin leadership I have known in my lifetime.

Traditionally, Wisconsin has been characterized by our ability to see past the moment in search of innovative solutions. Our state motto is "Forward," after all. Yet in recent times, we have seen Governor Walker roll back the clock on workers' rights, women's autonomy, and now the overall health of our people. We cannot sit idly by as our governor relentlessly drives to make history -- by turning his back on Wisconsinites in need.