Wisconsin is one of just 11 states that haven't expanded health care coverage to low-income Americans under the Affordable Care Act.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers wants Wisconsin to finally expand Medicaid, a move that would not only provide health insurance to tens of thousands of low-income residents but, his administration says, would also save the state more than a billion dollars.
"Expanding Medicaid is good for our health and good for our workforce," the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said in a fact sheet about the 2023-2025 state budget Evers proposed in February, which contains a provision proposing the expansion. "Medicaid expansion will expand coverage access to an estimated 89,700 additional people in Wisconsin. It is expected to generate $1.6 billion in savings due to enhanced federal funds."
Since taking office in 2019, Evers has tried multiple times to get the Republican-controlled state Legislature to expand Medicaid by accepting federal funds guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act. When the ACA passed in 2010, the law said states could offer Medicaid insurance to residents who make 138% of the federal poverty level. In 2023, that means an individual earning $20,120 or a family of four earning $41,400 would qualify for Medicaid.
However, for more than a decade Republicans in Wisconsin have refused to accept that funding, even though polls show that an overwhelming majority of voters in the state support Medicaid expansion.
Republicans have been able to block expansion because they've controlled both chambers of the Legislature since 2010, in large part thanks to gerrymandered maps that make it impossible for Democrats to win back a majority.
Wisconsin is one of just 11 states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage. That number will soon drop to 10, as Republicans in North Carolina finally agreed this month to accept the ACA's Medicaid expansion dollars.
By refusing to accept federal funding for Medicaid expansion, Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin have left billions of dollars in potential federal assistance on the table.
In 2021, Republicans quickly gaveled out and ended a special session of the Senate and Assembly that Evers had called to pass a bill on Medicaid expansion and accept a one-time $1 billion appropriation for Medicaid funding from a COVID-19 relief bill.
In a letter to Evers dated May 25, 2021, the day of the special session, Republican state lawmakers claimed that expanding Medicaid coverage would "increase the number of Wisconsinites on government assistance by over 90,000 people."
"Wisconsin provides quality, affordable coverage for all those who need it and expanding the program would simply lead to more people on a taxpayer funded government program and more expensive private plans for others," said the letter, signed by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, and the co-chairs of the Legislature's Committee on Joint Finance.
"Wisconsin has essentially been handed a $1 billion dollar lottery ticket," Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz told the Associated Press in 2021, calling the rejection of the funding "absurd." "The only acceptable answer is to cash it by expanding BadgerCare, and then invest it in our economic recovery."
While it's unclear whether the GOP legislature will heed Evers' calls to expand Medicaid, interest groups are encouraging Republicans to finally expand the program.
"Expanding Medicaid in Wisconsin under the terms offered by the Affordable Care Act should be a no-brainer," Joe Zepecki, a spokesperson for Protect Our Care Wisconsin, told the American Independent Foundation. "Had Wisconsin Republicans done the right thing at any time over the last decade, Wisconsin would have saved billions of dollars and expanded access to health insurance coverage that is essential for families working to get into the middle class. Instead, time after time, legislative Republicans have chosen to play politics rather than do what's best for our state."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.