Until Scott Walker became governor, Wisconsin had one of the strongest Medicaid programs in the nation.
Adults who earned up to 200 percent of the poverty level, which included those earning up to $47,100 for a family of four, were eligible for coverage under the joint federal/state program. That’s even more generous than the expansion of Medicaid for those earning up to 133 percent of the poverty level set to begin in 2014 under Obamacare.
President Obama’s signature health care reform law makes it easy for states to expand Medicaid by covering 100 percent of the program — up from the present level of 60 percent — at first and gradually decreasing support to 90 percent by 2020.
But when the Supreme Court ruled states could opt out of Medicaid expansion, it gave right-wing governors — especially those like Scott Walker considering a run for the presidency in 2016 — a chance to sabotage the number-one benefit of Obamacare: providing coverage to the working poor who earn too much to get Medicaid.
If Walker accepted the expansion, it would have covered 235,000 low-income Wisconsinites. But under Walker’s new plan, only those earning up to 100 percent of the poverty level — $23,550 for a family of four — will be eligible for Medicaid. About 10,000 childless adults will gain Medicaid but 95,000 more — mostly parents — will have to purchase a private insurance plan in the exchanges created by Affordable Care Act.
As MSNBC’s Steve Benen explains, “So Walker will rely on Obamacare in order to avoid implementing Obamacare.”
The displaced Wisconsinites will pay as little as $19 a month, but these plans will have deductibles and co-pays that many poor families just can’t afford — especially because these plans were not designed for families who are so close to the poverty level.
The working poor who are forced to rely on emergency rooms for expensive care they ultimately can’t afford drive up the cost of insurance and care for all Americans.
Walker is subverting this plan using Randian rhetoric: “We are talking about empowering people to control their own destiny.” Because there’s nothing more empowering than giving people just above the poverty level medical bills they can’t afford, thus driving up rates for the whole state.
One study shows that Walker’s plan will cost state employers up to $36 million.
The governor has claimed since he first came into office that his Koch-approved plans would create jobs; meanwhile Wisconsin has slipped from 11th to 44th in job creation. Despite this, he remains wildly popular with the far right, who seem to think punishing public workers and the working poor is an even higher virtue than creating jobs.
AP Photo/Morry Gash