Data shows most who lost Medicaid coverage in Wisconsin didn't buy insurance through exchange


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FILE - In this Oct. 1, 2013 file photo Chongtou Yang, 59, of Cottage Grove, Wis., gets guidance on the health insurance exchanges from counselor Lorraine McGowan at the Dane County Job Center in Madison, Wis. Figures released Wednesday, July 16, 2014 by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's administration show that more than 60 percent of the people who lost state Medicaid coverage earlier this year did not purchase private insurance through the online marketplace. (AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal, John Hart, File)


MADISON, Wisconsin — More than 60 percent of the people who lost state Medicaid coverage earlier this year did not purchase private insurance through the online marketplace, according to official data released Wednesday.

Gov. Scott Walker has defended his administration's attempts to reach out to the nearly 63,000 people who lost coverage under the more limited income requirements he put in place. But the new numbers released by the Department of Health Services fueled criticism from opponents who argue it was wrongheaded of Walker to reject federal money.

"It's disappointing because you hope more people would have made it into the marketplace," said Bobby Peterson, executive director of ABC for Health, a nonprofit law firm in Madison that helps people get health care.

Coverage ended in April for 62,776 people who earn too much to remain on Medicaid; they had until June 1 to buy the federally subsidized insurance offered through the federal online marketplace where applicants can shop for plans.

The new DHS numbers show that 30 percent, or nearly 19,000 people, purchased a plan through the exchange by the June deadline. Nearly 5,900 more, or 9 percent, either became Medicaid-eligible and received coverage through the state's BadgerCare Plus program or were enrolled in both Medicaid and the exchange.

But the majority of people, 61 percent or about 38,000, did not get coverage through either means. DHS Secretary Kitty Rhodes noted they may be uninsured, purchased a private plan not sold on the exchange, obtained coverage through an employer or gotten on their spouse's insurance.

She cautioned that because of those unknowns, the figures did not give a complete picture of the choices made by people who lost Medicaid coverage.

The new figures are disappointing and reinforce the concern that the marketplace is not a viable option for many low-income families who would have been covered thanks to federal funding, said Jon Peacock, research director for the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.

DHS remains committed to working with community partners to help low-income people find insurance, Deputy Secretary Kevin Moore said at a news conference. The next open enrollment period for the federal exchange begins Nov. 15 and runs until Feb. 15.

Under Walker's changes, only those earning less than the poverty level — $11,670 for an individual and $23,850 for a family of four — qualify for Medicaid. The federal money he rejected would have expanded coverage to everyone earning up to 138 percent of poverty. Previously, people earning up to 200 percent of poverty qualified for Medicaid in Wisconsin.

Walker did expand Medicaid coverage to all childless adults, ending a waiting list. His administration reported Wednesday that 97,509 additional people had obtained Medicaid coverage through June 30.

Walker has promised to cut in half the number of uninsured people in Wisconsin, of which there were about 556,000 in March.

"We're well on our way toward reaching the governor's goals," Deputy Insurance Commissioner Dan Schwartzer said. But he added that it wasn't known how many of the roughly 166,000 people who obtained insurance coverage by June 1 had been previously uninsured.

Walker has touted his approach as he runs for re-election this year and considers a 2016 bid for president, pointing to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report that found Wisconsin is the only state without a gap in coverage.

But opponent Mary Burke said in a statement that his decision to reject the Medicaid expansion was "irresponsible and political."

"And yet again, we see the cost, 38,000 likely without health care," the Democrat said.

Even if the state had taken the federal money, nearly 35,000 people who previously received Medicaid would still have earned too much to qualify, DHS said.


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