GOP-led South Dakota and Utah try moving 'forward'

By Bill Kaplan

Many GOP-led states embrace Wisconsin's state motto "Forward": 

• Ten GOP-led states (Arizona, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio and Pennsylvania) expanded Medicaid. Newly GOP-led Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts have continued Medicaid expansion; 
• Washington Post headline: (GOP-led) "South Dakota proposes plan to expand Medicaid". And, Dr. Tim Ridgway, president of the South Dakota State Medical Association, said: "It's a budget issue... (and) human issue. Medicaid expansion...would mean a healthier South Dakota"; 
• And, the Salt Lake Tribune reported, notwithstanding GOP legislative intransigence, that Utah GOP Gov. Gary Herbert supports full Medicaid expansion, using a private insurance model. Herbert said: "I think the issue is not going to go away...". 

However, Gov. Scott Walker used his short-lived presidential campaign to continue his ideological crusade against Medicaid expansion, attacking GOP govs. such as Ohio Gov. John Kasich who expanded Medicaid. Walker seems oblivious to geography, history and math: 

• All states (Democratic and GOP-led) bordering Wisconsin have expanded Medicaid; 
• Wisconsin GOP Gov. Warren Knowles established the state Medicaid program. And, Wisconsin GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson expanded Medicaid; 
• Walker has turned down $560 million in federal Medicaid funding which could cover over 80,000 Wisconsinites. The federal match for Wisconsin Medicaid is currently 58.23 percent. But under Medicaid expansion Wisconsin would receive 100 percent federal funding through 2016, declining thereafter to 90 percent; 
• And, the Wisconsin Taypayers Alliance reports: "Wisconsin continues to lag in federal money...Historically, federal spending in Wisconsin has been relatively low." 

It makes no sense to leave federal money, paid by Wisconsin taxpayers, on the table for other states. Moreover, the New York Times reported that a new Kaiser Family Foundation survey of state Medicaid directors "found that many states that had expanded the program saved on other parts of their budgets as a result. For example, it said, covering more low-income adults has led to less state and county spending on mental health services for that population, as well as on hospital care for patients who are unable to pay." 

No wonder that the Wisconsin Hospital Association and Wisconsin Medical Society continue to raise the issue of taking federal Medicaid expansion funding. It's time for Wisconsin GOP legislators to realize that the Walker era is coming to an end, and follow state GOP Sen. Luther Olsen's advice on discussing the many pro's of expanding Medicaid. Wisconsin should move "Forward" like GOP-led South Dakota and Utah are trying to do. 

-- Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C. for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 - 2009

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