MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker proudly defends his decision to reject hundreds of millions of federal dollars to pay for expanding Medicaid coverage, even though polls show most Wisconsin residents believe he made the wrong choice. Mary Burke, his Democratic opponent in the gubernatorial race, decries it as irresponsible.
How Walker approached Medicaid offers a clear contrast with Burke, who said she would undo Walker’s policies and take the money. And though Walker rejected the money offered under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law, he did expand the program to include childless adults previously on a waiting list.
The most recent Marquette University Law School poll showed the race in the Nov. 4 election is tied, with nearly every voter having already made up their mind. That same poll released Oct. 15 showed 59 percent of likely voters would like the state to accept the federal money, while 30 percent agree with Walker in rejecting it.
Despite public sentiment, Walker proudly touts his Medicaid policy, noting that everyone earning less than the federal poverty limit now has health insurance.
“We will continue to look out for those legitimately in need of our help,” Walker said in a statement. “I will continue to work with able-bodied, working-age adults to help them transition from government dependence to true independence.”
But Burke flat-out rejects Walker’s approach, saying his decision was fiscally irresponsible and political.
“Accepting the expansion should have been a no-brainer,” Burke said in a statement. “Any CEO who turned that kind of opportunity down would be fired.”
The state’s Medicaid program, known as BadgerCare, covers about 782,000 people, most of them children. Costing state taxpayers about $4.6 billion, it is the second most-expensive item in the current two-year budget, accounting for 15 percent of total spending, behind only aid to schools.
Walker took a unique approach to the Medicaid issue, breaking from other Republican governors in states like Ohio, New Jersey, and Michigan, who accepted the Medicaid money.
Walker lowered Medicaid eligibility from those earning 200 percent of poverty to just 100 percent. The federal money would have paid for coverage for those earning up to 138 percent of poverty.
Instead, nearly 63,000 people lost Medicaid because he installed tighter income requirements — those earning less than $11,670 for an individual and $23,850 for a family of four qualified. If he had accepted the federal money, individuals earning up to $15,421 and families of four making up to $31,721 would have qualified.
However, that drop in enrollment was offset by expanding coverage to about 97,000 childless adults who had previously been on a waiting list and not getting any coverage.
Of those who were kicked off, about 40 percent had yet to sign up for subsidized private coverage sold through the marketplaces created under the federal law as of late September.
Even though Walker rejected about $120 million in federal money for the current budget, the state can accept it at any future point.
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