Up to 175,000 more people in Wisconsin could become eligible for Medicaid and the state could save nearly $66 million over three years under provisions of the federal health care law, a new report said.
The findings were included in a memo by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau and released by Democratic lawmakers when they unveiled legislation aimed at expanding the state's Medicaid health programs using money available through the federal Affordable Care Act.
Democrats and health care advocates gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday to urge Republican Gov. Scott Walker to include an expansion of the state's BadgerCare health care program as part of his budget proposal. The Democrats' bill would expand the program by changing Medicaid eligibility standards for the state and, in doing so, trigger federal funding. The federal health care law provides for initially covering the full cost of expanding Medicaid coverage for adults with incomes of up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
Democrats pointed to the fiscal bureau's memo, calling the Medicaid expansion a "deal" that would benefit Wisconsinites in need of health care.
"Taking this deal is the right thing to do," said Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee. "All across Wisconsin, the middle class is struggling with how to pay doctor and health care bills. It happens to Democrats, it happens to Republicans."
Republicans didn't address the new report's numbers, but instead voiced skepticism about the Democrats' bill and federal funding for the program.
Walker has not yet announced his plans, but on Tuesday Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said changes in the bill and the Affordable Care Act could cost the state money. "Given current fiscal uncertainties, the federal funding contained in the bill today remains in question," Werwie said. "There is a possibility that the federal government will not fund the spending in this bill, which would ultimately result in state taxpayers picking up the additional cost."
Werwie also said the last budget Walker signed into law increased state taxpayer spending on Medicaid by $1.2 billion — the largest increase in state history and added that the cost to continue Medicaid under current law is estimated at $664 million over the biennium.
Walker is set to unveil his budget on Feb. 20.
He has already rejected setting up a state-run health insurance exchange, leaving it to the federal government instead.
Other conservatives have voiced concern about the Medicaid expansion, saying states may be left to pick up the tab. But several Republican governors have backed it, including Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.
A broad coalition of Wisconsin health care advocates, labor groups and advocates for the poor support the expansion, including the Wisconsin Hospital Association, the state AFL-CIO, Wisconsin Physicians for a National Health Program, Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals, Citizen Action of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Health.
The fiscal bureau's memo said its estimates are preliminary and subject to change.