Several red states are turning down Medicare expansion — only Scott Walker (R-WI) is actually using Obamacare as an excuse to cut Medicaid.
Wisconsin’s Badgercare health care plan is one of the best in the country. Families qualify for comprehensive coverage if they earn up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level.
So when the Affordable Care Act offered all 50 states a chance to expand their Medicaid programs to cover all the working poor who earn too much for Medicaid but make up to 133 percent of the poverty level, what did Governor Scott Walker decide to do?
He put forward a plan to drastically cut Badgercare.
If Walker gets his way, his state’s plan will only cover residents who earn 100 percent of the poverty level or below — $11,490 a year for a single adult.
Tens of thousands of Wisconsites will be forced from completely subsidized health care to the federal insurance exchanges, where they can purchase private plans with a subsidy. To do this, Walker has to give up federal funding that would cover 84,7000 residents, which would lead to a $119 million cut to his state budget.
“But a detailed analysis of the plan by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau finds that many of the people now receiving state Medicaid coverage would likely not buy the more costly insurance through the federal program,” The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.
“As a general rule, they’re going to be really strapped to do it,” Jon Peacock, research director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, told the Journal Sentinel. “They won’t scrape together the money unless they really need it.”
The Bureau estimates that 7 percent will not buy the coverage. Peacock thinks that’s overly optimistic.
A new UW Madison study shows that Badgercare — which was expanded in 2009 — reduces hospitalization and improves management of chronic disease.
Even Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) admits that Walker’s plan could send thousands to emergency rooms for care, driving up the cost of care for all residents. The legislature is considering additional payments to hospitals to make up for the costs of the uninsured.
As he punishes the poor, Walker is pushing a tax cut where the majority of the benefit will go to the state’s top earners. “This is a tax plan that by and large will benefit people that by and large make well into six figures,” said Rep. Cory Mason, (D-Racine). “The richest one percent, if not fewer.”
Clearly Walker’s priority isn’t fiscal conservatism or budget balancing but reducing what government so the rich will be asked to contribute as little as possible.
Medicaid expansion is a great deal for the states. The federal government will fund 100 percent of the initial expense; that decreases to 90 percent over the next decade.
Rand Corporation just released a study that underlines the cruelty of rejecting expansion. “States rejecting the expansion will spend much more, get much, much less, and leave millions of their residents uninsured. That’s a lot of self-inflicted pain to make a political point,” according to The Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas.
“This is not a small issue,” writes The Guardian‘s Michael Cohen. “In fact, it is a matter of life and death.”
Cohen points to a New England Journal of Medicine study that shows increased access to Medicaid results in fewer deaths. A recent study in Oregon found that Medicaid eliminated economic hardships brought on by health problems and dramatically improved mental health.
What Walker is doing is even worse than his more than two dozen Republican colleagues who are rejecting expansion. He’s taking health care away from the working poor, knowing that doing so will cost his state money, well-being and even lives.
AP Photo/Seth Perlman