The Republican-controlled state Legislature is expected to take no action Tuesday during a special session called by Gov. Tony Evers to expand Medicaid in Wisconsin and accept $1 billion in additional federal funds.
Evers called the special session last week and proposed a bill that would add Wisconsin to a list of 38 other states and Washington, DC, that have expanded Medicaid since 2014, when it was first offered as part of the Affordable Care Act. The expansion would extend Medicaid health benefits to 91,000 additional people in Wisconsin by raising the income cap from 100 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $26,500 for a family of four, to 138 percent, or $36,570.
The $1 billion is an additional incentive from the federal government for states that have not yet taken the expansion. Evers has proposed a slew of ways to spend that money, including $200 million for broadband internet expansion, $100 million for lead pipe replacements, $100 million for bridge and local road projects and funding more than a dozen local construction projects across the state.
Wisconsin Republicans have for years opposed the expansion, calling it an unnecessary increase in welfare and arguing it could saddle Wisconsin with additional costs in the future, if federal support were to decrease. At least one state, New York, has struggled with rising costs since accepting the expansion.
“Everyone who wants insurance in our state has access and options,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, said last week in a prepared statement. “Our unique-to-Wisconsin solution is working, and we will not shift tens of thousands of people off their private insurance to a government-run system.”
Republicans argue there are ample options for affordable health insurance on the private market. GOP leaders on the Legislature’s budget committee recently rejected the governor’s plan to include the expansion in the next two-year state budget, just as they did two years ago.
However, Evers has pledged to continue pushing for the expansion, even in the face of almost certain legislative defeat.
“Even if they do gavel in and gavel out (the special session), we will continue to advocate for this,” the governor said at an event in Reedsburg on Monday. “A billion dollars is a lot of money. It’s a lot of money for the state of Wisconsin.”
In Reedsburg, the governor highlighted one of his proposed projects for the federal incentive money: $220,000 to renovate part of a historic school building into a community center.
At the event, city administrator Tim Becker called the project “much needed.”
However, GOP legislators who represent the area, Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, and Rep. Tony Kurtz, R-Wonewoc, called the governor’s event disingenuous. They said they were not invited to the press conference and argued Reedsburg officials have never asked for state money for the project.
“Our communities deserve better than to be used as pawns in an insincere political ploy,” Marklein and Kurtz said in a prepared statement. “We are disappointed that the Governor has waived a false flag during this press conference today to try to score political points. We know our citizens are too smart to fall for this charade.”
A number of health care groups across the state have pushed for accepting the Medicaid expansion in recent years. On Monday, the Committee to Protect Health Care, a nationwide advocacy group, held a press conference highlighting some Wisconsin doctors’ support for the change.
“Many of our friends, family and neighbors are falling through the cracks and going without adequate coverage through no fault of their own,” said Dr. Madelaine Tully, a family physician in Milwaukee County. “As a doctor, I’ve seen what happens when people go without coverage.”
Tully and her colleagues argued the Medicaid expansion would save taxpayer money by providing more preventive care to people who need it, avoiding costlier care down the line that often has to be absorbed by providers if bills go unpaid.
“Wisconsin has a golden opportunity right now,” said Dr. Brian Ewert, a nephrologist in Marshfield. “We have already squandered billions of savings.”