Democratic candidate Mary Burke criticized Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday for turning down $119 million from the federal government to expand Medicaid coverage for Wisconsin residents just above the poverty line.
Burke launched her run for governor last week but hasn't spoken in much detail about her campaign platform. In an interview with The Associated Press, Burke said the Republican Walker was wrong not to accept the $119 million in federal money over the next two years to pay for state Medicaid coverage for people earning up to 138 percent of poverty.
Instead, Walker lowered BadgerCare Medicaid eligibility from 200 percent to 100 percent of poverty. The move is expected to result in about 92,000 people losing BadgerCare coverage in January.
While Walker rejected the federal money, he or any other future governor could decide at any point to accept it. Burke, if elected in 2014, said she would reverse Walker's decision.
"I would definitely accept it," Burke said. "It defies common sense that we would turn down $120 million that frankly is the money of Wisconsin taxpayers. Federal money is our money and we should make sure we are getting our share of it. This is making health care more affordable for tens of thousands of people in Wisconsin." "
Burke's position is consistent with most Democrats and many in the state's medical community who urged Walker to accept the federal Medicaid expansion money because it would help guarantee health insurance for low-income people who frequently turn to hospital emergency rooms for basic care. But Walker rejected it as part of his plan that forces those earning above 100 percent of poverty onto the health insurance marketplace, or exchange, to purchase private insurance.
Walker's campaign manager Stephan Thompson dismissed Burke's concerns, saying Walker's plan helps to insure more people and make fewer dependent on government.
"Governor Walker is focused on moving people from government dependence to true independence," Thompson said in a statement. "For the first time, everyone living in poverty will be covered by Medicaid while those living above poverty will be transitioned into the marketplace where they can get health insurance for as low as $19 per month."
Walker, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, has been one of the loudest critics of President Obama's federal health care law. He's repeatedly called for its repeal, and in recent weeks has joined with Congressional Republicans urging a delay in the requirement that all individuals have insurance by January or face a penalty.
Under Walker's approach, approved earlier this year by the Legislature, the most an individual can earn and still qualify for Medicaid starting in January will be $11,490. Had Walker accepted the federal expansion, the income cutoff would have been $15,282. For a family of four, the Medicaid eligibility level will be no more than $23,550. It would have been $31,322 if the limit were 138 percent of poverty.
While he was kicking some people off Medicaid, Walker also injected more money to eliminate a waiting list for childless adults earning up to 100 percent of poverty. That is expected to add about 82,000 people to the program.
Walker also declined to have Wisconsin operate its own marketplace for individuals to shop for insurance coverage. The federal exchange, which opened Oct. 1, has been besieged with numerous technical problems resulting in the site crashing and making it difficult, if not impossible, for people in Wisconsin and the 35 other states relying on it to purchase coverage.
Burke wouldn't say whether Walker was wrong to rely on the federal exchange instead of having Wisconsin create its own.
"It's important to make sure that we are opening up and providing the health care options that the people of Wisconsin need," she said. "I would certainly look more closely at which would have been better for the people of Wisconsin."