U.S. Markets closed

Democrats, others call for Wis. Medicaid expansion

Scott Bauer, Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Democratic lawmakers and others who are calling on Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans who control the Legislature to expand Medicaid coverage in Wisconsin pointed to a new analysis Tuesday that said the state could save $65 million by accepting the federal money.

The savings would come by replacing state money to cover childless adults with money from the federal government made available under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law. The analysis was done by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau at the request of Democrats.

Walker has not said if he will take advantage of the voluntary expansion, which the U.S. Supreme Court allowed last year in its ruling upholding the constitutionality of the health care law. Walker has already rejected setting up a state-run health insurance exchange, deferring to the federal government.

Walker wasn't expected to announce his decision on Medicaid until he releases his budget on Feb. 20. His spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday.

An estimated 1750,000 childless adults in Wisconsin are expected to qualify for Medicaid starting in 2014 under the expansion. To qualify, the household income must be below 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $15,414 for an individual this year and $20,628 for a couple.

The federal government pays for all of the expansion for three years, or $1.4 billion in Wisconsin, according to the Fiscal Bureau. After that, the federal reimbursement gradually declines to 90 percent. Through 2020, Wisconsin would receive nearly $4.4 billion in federal money, the Fiscal Bureau said.

"It's about knowing a good deal when you see one and this is a good deal," said state Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, at a Capitol news conference attended by other Democratic lawmakers, advocates for health insurance expansion and others.

Walker has cited concerns about how much it would cost Wisconsin in the long run to pay for the Medicaid expansion. While the federal government would pick up the tab for three years, costs to the state would gradually increase and eventually be 10 percent. Over four years, starting in 2016, new costs to the state would total about $133 million, the Fiscal Bureau said.

Democrats are hoping Walker will follow the lead of other conservative governors, including John Kasich in Ohio and Jan Brewer in Arizona, who have decided to move ahead with the expansion. Several other GOP governors have said they will not go forward, including Rick Perry in Texas, Bobby Jindal in Louisiana and Nikki Haley in South Carolina.

A broad coalition of labor groups, doctors, hospitals, health providers and advocates for the poor back the expansion in Wisconsin. Supporters include the AFL-CIO, the Wisconsin Hospital Association, the Wisconsin Medical Society, the Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians, the Wisconsin Primary Care Association and the Wisconsin chapter of the American College of Physicians.

Even if Walker were to accept the expansion, he could run into trouble among Republicans who control the Legislature and have been outspoken against Obama's health care overhaul. A spokesman for Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald declined to comment Tuesday, saying they were waiting to see what Walker proposes in his budget in two weeks.

Richards, who is a member of the Legislature's budget-writing committee, said he spoke with Walker last week about the issue and has had conversations with his staff members for months about it. Richards said he didn't know which way Walker was leaning.

"We're trying to read the tea leaves like everybody else," he said.