Scott Walker (copy)

Gov. Scott Walker.

JEFFREY PHELPS — Associated Press

Gov. Scott Walker may have dodged a bullet with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Obamacare in states that, like Wisconsin, use the federal health care insurance exchange.

In a 6-3 decision written by conservative Justice John Roberts, the court ruled that federal subsidies could be continued for more than 6 million qualifying Americans, more than 166,000 in Wisconsin, who could have found their health care unaffordable had the Supreme Court ruled against the subsidies. And Walker, now a leading contender for the GOP presidential nomination, would likely have taken a lot of the blame.

In Wisconsin, an adverse Supreme Court ruling could have had an added impact because of Walker’s decision to reject Medicaid expansion and kick 72,000 low earners off of BadgerCare, the state's Medicaid program, saying that they can seek coverage on the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, exchanges. In addition, a poll released in March found that by a wide margin Wisconsin voters favored expanding Medicaid and wanted Walker to develop a contingency plan in case the Supreme Court ruled the other way.

“It is a nearly ideal course of events for Walker,” said University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor Barry Burden. “He can continue to complain about the law without suffering much in the way of effects.”

And Walker wasted no time in calling for “repeal and replacement” of Obamacare.

"Today’s Supreme Court ruling upholding the administration’s implementation of ObamaCare means Republicans in the House and Senate must redouble their efforts to repeal and replace this destructive and costly law,” Walker said in a statement. “From the beginning, it was clear that Obamacare would fail the American people and this has proven to be true across the country and in Wisconsin.”

Walker has repeatedly said that if the long-awaited Supreme Court decision went the other way, it would be the federal government’s problem. But his decision to reject federally funded expansion of Medicaid, which Wisconsin Citizen Action estimated to cost the state $315 million, could have put Walker in a difficult political spot.

“The (Supreme Court) decision takes the issue off the hot burner for Walker,” said Burden. “His approach will go over just fine with GOP activists because he did not accept federal money or set up a problematic state exchange."

Burden said Walker's move to move low-earners who make more than the poverty level to Obamacare could work in his favor if he gains the GOP nomination. In a general election, Burden said, Walker can boast that he's maintained a high coverage rate even without expanding Medicaid.

At the same time, Burden said, "He will still blame Obamacare for disturbing the health care marketplace and impeding job growth.”

In his statement in reaction to the Supreme Court decision, Walker did just that.

“Workers have lost hours because of new costs faced by their employers, people have lost their insurance and cannot afford the dramatic premium and fee increases, and many can no longer see their preferred doctors,” he said. “Now, instead of just finger-pointing from the president for why his law is failing, we need real leadership in Washington, and Congress needs to repeal and replace ObamaCare."

Walker, who has climbed to the top of the heap in some polls for the GOP nomination, had been laying the groundwork to deflect blame if the decision went the other way. He penned a column in CNN Wednesday that blasted the Obama administration both for putting Obamacare in place, and for not having a contingency plan in the event the Supreme Court invalidated the subsidies in the 34 states that didn’t set up their own exchanges.

“The Obama administration has had plenty of advance notice about the King v. Burwell decision and the potential outcomes,” he wrote, “but it seems the President's only plan is to continue pointing his finger at the states for a problem he created.”

Walker had repeatedly said he wouldn’t set up a state exchange to reverse the effects of a Supreme Court decision had it gone the other way.

“Governors across the country have been clear,” he wrote in the CNN column. “If the Supreme Court strikes down the Obama executive overreach, we will not bail out Obama at the expense of the American people. We will not set up state exchanges under the rules of Obamacare.”

Meanwhile, as Burden noted, Walker can take credit for the state’s high levels of health coverage, made possible by Obamacare.

“Wisconsin is the only state that didn't accept the Medicaid expansion funds and that has no gap in coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation,” Walker wrote. “For the first time in state history, everyone living in poverty has access to coverage.”

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Steven Elbow joined The Capital Times in 1999 and has covered law enforcement in addition to city, county and state government. He has also worked for the Portage Daily Register and has written for the Isthmus weekly newspaper in Madison.