Scott Walker’s staff scoffs at report pushing health care expansion – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Madison — In a new national report, advisers to President Barack Obama criticized state officials such as Scott Walker for not using federal money to expand a state health program, drawing a sharp rebuke from Wisconsin’s governor.

Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers on Wednesday issued a report that said 120,000 uninsured state residents could gain coverage if Wisconsin fully expands its BadgerCare Plus health program.

But one health care expert in Wisconsin said that number was inflated. He cautioned that the report, while useful for its findings at the national level, didn’t account for Wisconsin’s unusual approach to implementing the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Walker and his fellow Republicans in the Legislature declined to take federal money through Obama’s health care law that would have allowed for a greater expansion of BadgerCare coverage in Wisconsin. Republicans said they didn’t have confidence that the federal government could fund the higher costs over the long term.

Under Walker’s plan to implement Obamacare in Wisconsin, 81,731 adults below the poverty line signed up for BadgerCare and began receiving it on April 1. At the same time, 62,776 people above the poverty line were dropped from BadgerCare by March 31 and told to buy subsidized coverage under the federal health law.

That means that about 19,000 more low-income state residents gained state health coverage, a number that was greater than expected but less than the number who would have gained coverage if Wisconsin had accepted the full federal money.

The report noted that it’s not easy to estimate the impact of further expansion of coverage in states such as Wisconsin.

“However, this evidence is clear that the consequences of states’ decisions are far-reaching, with implications for the health and well-being of their citizens, their economies, and the economy of the nation as a whole,” the report reads.

Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick sharply criticized the White House report, which comes as governors’ elections begin to heat up around the country. Debate over the Medicaid expansion has been a re-election issue for Walker as well as other governors nationally.

“Governor Walker’s entitlement reforms ensure everyone in Wisconsin has access to health care and, for the first time, everyone living in poverty has access to the health care through Medicaid. No waiting lists, no caps. This did not happen under (Democratic) Gov. Jim Doyle or other governors in the past,” Patrick said.

Jon Peacock, research director for the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, said in general he agreed with the conclusions of the White House report suggesting that both local economies and uninsured citizens around the country could benefit from Medicaid expansions.

But Peacock said a full Medicaid expansion in Wisconsin through BadgerCare Plus would not help 120,000 uninsured patients. The actual number of uninsured covered here would be lower because the report didn’t account for the partial Medicaid expansion that did happen in Wisconsin under Walker — an unusual situation compared with most other states, which either did a full expansion or none or at all.

“The Wisconsin specifics are off base. The general points (of the report) are very valid,” Peacock said.

A separate report released Wednesday by the State Health Care Spending Project showed that Wisconsin’s spending on Medicaid grew to $7.5 billion from $4.4 billion, or 70%, from 2000 to 2012. That was faster than the national growth in Medicaid spending of 63% over the same period.

But Wisconsin’s ranking fell to 24th in the country for the growth in spending, far below the 169% spending growth in the No. 1 state of Arizona for the same period.

That was a change from the past for Wisconsin. From 2000 to 2009, for instance, Wisconsin was second only to Arizona nationally for growth in its Medicaid program.

This report used figures from before the implementation of Obamacare nationally. When more recent figures become available, they will likely show a further slowdown in the growth in Medicaid spending, Peacock said.

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