For eight years, former Gov. Scott Walker and legislative Republicans in Wisconsin rejected the federal Medicaid expansion funding available under the Affordable Care Act. This shortsighted and purely ideological decision has cost state taxpayers a whopping $1.1 billion since 2014, while covering an estimated 82,000 fewer people.
Refusing to expand Medicaid also has made Wisconsin an outlier compared to other states, 37 of which — including neighboring Michigan, Indiana, Iowa and Minnesota — have accepted the federal funding and expanded coverage. In private conversations, even my own Republican colleagues have expressed confusion about why their leadership in Madison continues to hold them to such a ridiculous position, one that prevents their own constituents from receiving health care coverage and would provide a welcome economic boost in many of their districts.
Luckily, it’s never too late to do the right thing. This is certainly recognized by our new governor, Tony Evers, whose 2019-21 budget makes expansion one of its centerpieces, addressing the health care needs of Wisconsin while maximizing taxpayer dollars to fund other important priorities such as education.
Here are 10 reasons why Wisconsin should include Medicaid expansion in the 2019-21 budget:
1. It will increase affordable and accessible health insurance. Expanding Medicaid coverage to 138% of the federal poverty level for childless adults and parents/caretakers will enable an estimated 82,000 individuals to access affordable health coverage. For reference, a single person working full time and earning between 100% and 138% of the federal poverty level makes about $12,000 to $17,000 per year.
2. The expansion will save state taxpayers money. Accepting the Medicaid funding will generate $324.5 million in state taxpayer savings in this budget alone.
3. It will maximize taxpayer investment. This savings is invested in Wisconsin’s health care system and leveraged to draw down a total of $1.6 billion in new additional federal dollars for health care.
4. It will improve health care quality and access by increasing provider reimbursement, tackling workforce shortages, and providing coverage for additional services and benefits. The increased revenue supports Wisconsin’s direct-care workforce through targeted funding increases to long-term care programs and services, including Family Care, nursing homes and personal care.
5. The Medicaid expansion will reduces health care costs for everyone. By covering those without health insurance, there will be less uncompensated care for providers and fewer medical bankruptcies for individuals. The increased Medicaid reimbursement will reduce cost shifting to private insurance. One study referenced by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that ACA Marketplace premiums are actually 7% lower in expansion states compared to non-expansion states.
6. It will help address the opioid crisis. Low-income adults ages 18–35 are an especially high-risk population that is more likely to be uninsured and vulnerable to opioid abuse. Often the biggest barrier to recovery is access to treatment. Gov. Evers’ budget proposes expanding Medicaid reimbursement to all individuals in crisis, including substance abuse. Doing everything we can to address the opioid epidemic means taking the Medicaid expansion.
7. Wisconsin will experience better overall health outcomes: According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, studies have documented improvements in health outcome measures following Medicaid expansion, including cardiac surgery patients and reductions in infant mortality rates.
8. The expansion will increase state funding for other priorities. By saving state taxpayer money and maximizing existing federal dollars, the state is able to make historic investments in its health care system. In addition, more state dollars are available for other important priorities, such as K-12 education, UW System and local government.
9. Taking the Medicaid money will supports economic development across Wisconsin. The additional resources generated by the Medicaid expansion will stimulate local economies, create jobs and boost personal incomes. States that have expanded Medicaid have seen significant job growth and positive economic impact.
10. The public supports the expansion. According to the most recent Marquette Law School poll released April 10, 70% said Wisconsin should accept federal funds to expand Medicaid.
Given these reasons, the only question left about Medicaid expansion is: What are we waiting for?