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Walker’s Medicaid refusal shows insight

Christopher Johnson, Opinion Writer
February 27, 2013
Filed under Opinion

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker declined federal funding for Medicaid expansion Feb. 15. The expansion would have seen the federal government footing the entire bill for Medicaid enrollees.

Instead, Walker chose to dial back coverage for childless adults earning more than the federally recognized poverty limit of $11,490. His decision won’t impact on others who previously qualified for the program. However, childless adults who now earn from 100 to 133 percent above the poverty line will be shifted over to federally subsidized private health insurance, according to the Washington Post.

Medicaid was created in the 1960s to help states provide medical coverage for low-income families and others who meet eligibility criteria such as the blind, elderly, pregnant women and disabled. Wisconsin is one of just three states that also extends coverage to childless adults earning up to 200 percent above the poverty line.

Walker refused to accept the Medicaid expansion funds and will shift those recipients above the poverty line over to the federal Obama Care exchange in 2014. This will open up an estimated 80,000 to 90,000 eligibility slots in Wisconsin for childless adults earning less than the federally recognized poverty minimum, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

As one might imagine, not everybody is thrilled about Walker’s latest controversial move.

“This should be a no-brainer to expand coverage to people of Wisconsin, especially if the federal government’s going to kick in 100 percent or even 90 percent of that cost,” said Milwaukee Democrat Jon Richards on the Wisconsin Radio Network. “We should be moving forward aggressively.”

Citizen Action of Wisconsin Executive Director Robert Kraig believes it might also damage the state economy.

“We should understand that turning down the Medicaid money is going to lead to a very large tax increase of a large magnitude on Wisconsin businesses,” Kraig said.

Under the Affordable Care Act, businesses that employ more than 50 people but don’t offer medical insurance will have to pay a tax penalty for each non-insured employee who enrolls on the new health exchanges, according to the Wisconsin Radio Network.

Unfortunately for those who pushed for Walker to sign on for the federal funding, this was not free money just sitting on the table to cure all the ailments of the underinsured in our state.

Wisconsin’s Medicaid program presently has the state paying 40 percent of the program and the federal government financing the rest. So how is paying for 40 percent of the program better than having the federal government flip for all of it, you may ask? Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie told the Washington Post that Walker fully expects the federal government to cut back that match in the future and leave Wisconsin and other states on the hook for paying a much larger chunk of the Medicaid bill than anybody expected.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, by Walker refusing to accept this free money, the cost of private insurance rates in Wisconsin is kept down.

This is because Medicaid only funds Wisconsin doctors at approximately 53 percent of the amount that private insurers do. Consequently, one-third of doctors are no longer accepting new Medicaid patients. In order to make up that difference to doctors, private insurers are charging higher premiums to insurance holders.

Thus, the more Medicaid patients doctors are required to see, the more private insurance holders have to pay.

Amy Henniges, director of Counseling and Health Center services at UWGB, said Walker’s recent decision will have no impact on services presently being offered to students.

“Students who qualify for their program based on their own income regardless of their own family income or family insurance can come here for free annual examinations, physical examinations, pap screening, birth control and STI testing and treatment,” Henniges said.

She also tells students as part of the fees they pay here on campus any enrolled student can see a nurse or a counselor for free regardless of their insurance status.

“If a student needs to go beyond the campus clinic and see a doctor, the cost of seeing a doctor is $30 to $37,” Henniges said. “We don’t bill insurance or Medicaid, and we keep our costs to students down to a minimum.”

Walker said he understands this recent action will lead some to think he’s just throwing people under the bus. This isn’t the case.

“I care too much about the people of this state not to empower them to control their own destiny,” Walker said.

By restructuring one out-of-line element of Wisconsin’s Medicaid program, Walker is opening up the program to more people in need and quite possibly saving tax payers millions of dollars in potential payments should the federal government decide later to cut off the free money.