MADISON, Wisconsin — Wisconsin Democrats are keeping the pressure on Republican Gov. Scott Walker to expand Medicaid eligibility with a new report that shows the move would save the state hundreds of millions of dollars over the next three years.
Under the new federal health care law, the federal government would pay the full cost through 2016 of expanding Medicaid to all adults earning 138 percent of the federal poverty level or less, which translates to $16,105 for individuals and $32,913 for families of four. Federal coverage would decrease annually after that before settling at 90 percent in 2020.
The influx of federal aid would have saved Wisconsin $206 million in the current two-year budget if it had expanded Medicaid, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau said in a memo prepared at the request of Sen. Jennifer Shilling, a La Crosse Democrat. If Walker agrees to the expansion in the 2015-17 state budget, the move would save the state between $261 million and $315 million depending on enrollment, it said.
Shilling said in a statement that Walker's refusal to accept the federal money was hurting Wisconsin residents.
"Putting partisan politics over people's lives is one of the reasons that families in Wisconsin continue to struggle to make ends meet," said Shilling, a member of the Legislature's budget committee. "Too many Wisconsin residents and working families are finding it difficult to get ahead because Republicans have blocked access to affordable health care."
Walker has defended his decision not to expand, saying he doubts the federal government would honor its commitment to cover the costs. The governor's spokeswoman, Laurel Patrick, said in an email to The Associated Press that if anyone thinks the debt-saddled federal government won't renege on its promises "they are not living in reality."
The Fiscal Bureau's memo represents another salvo in Democrats' campaign to pressure governors who have rejected the expansion to reconsider. President Barack Obama's administration released a report in July saying expansion would improve access to care, contain people's costs and create jobs. The report said expansion in Wisconsin would mean coverage for another 120,000 people by 2016 and reduce the number of people facing catastrophic out-of-pocket costs or borrowing to pay medical bills.
Rather than opting for the full expansion, Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature expanded coverage to all adults with incomes at or below the poverty level. Some who didn't have children had been on a waiting list previously because of enrollment caps. Because the expansion was partial, the federal government will cover only 40 percent of the cost.
According to the memo, that means the state will spend about $815 million on Medicaid benefits by the end of the 2013-15 state budget. If Walker had opted for full expansion with 100 percent federal coverage for new enrollees, the state would spend only $609 million.
If current state law remains in place for the 2015-2017 budget, the state will spend between $965 million and $1 billion on benefits, depending on enrollment levels. If Walker went for full expansion, the state would spend $704 million to $754 million.
Walker also has blocked anyone who makes more than poverty level — $11,670 for an individual or $23,850 for a family of four — from enrolling in Medicaid, saying anyone who makes more can buy insurance through the new federally run, online exchange. His administration reported last month, however, that only about 30 percent of the 62,776 people who lost coverage found some online.
At the same time, state health officials said about 97,509 additional people had obtained Medicaid coverage as of June 30.
"Governor Walker's reforms ensure everyone living in poverty has access to health care through Medicaid, while protecting taxpayers from uncertain federal funding," Patrick said.