Governing: Republicans nationwide expand Medicaid

By Bill Kaplan

Breaking news: GOP state legislators nationwide have defied the extreme right (e.g., Koch brothers and subsidiary - Americans for Prosperity) and moved forward to expand Medicaid. And, some GOP govs. have joined their efforts: 

* To date 10 GOP-led states have expanded Medicaid; 

On Wednesday Montana Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock signed a Medicaid expansion bill passed by the GOP-led legislature. GOP state Rep. Rob Cook said: "The Obama-scare talk just doesn't carry water anymore. We're past that to rational analysis"; 

On Wednesday Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and GOP state legislative leaders said their D.C. meeting with the Obama administration on Medicaid expansion was productive. Gov. Herbert will call a special legislative session to debate expanding Medicaid; 

On Tuesday Alaska Independent Gov. Bill Walker (formerly a Republican) brought the GOP-led Legislature back for a special session to consider Medicaid expansion; 

* Finally, the Florida GOP-led Senate unanimously passed a budget with Medicaid expansion despite scorched earth opposition from the GOP-led House, which later unilaterally ended the session, with dissent from moderate GOP House members. A special legislative session is likely. 

Compromise, leadership, negotiation and working across party lines differentiate Montana and Utah from Wisconsin. Moreover, Alaska Gov. Walker rejected the ideological political expediency of his Wisconsin namesake. But Florida has elements of these governing models while also adopting some of the theatrics of Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker. 

Florida GOP state Senate President Andy Gardiner advocated Medicaid expansion to cover 800,000 uninsured Floridians and resultant federal funding to help with the state budget crisis. However, GOP state House Speaker Steve Crisafulli spouted Tea Party rhetoric and said no. And, Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott ditched his election year "conversion" and returned to opposing Medicaid expansion. Fairy dust will apparently be used to cover the uninsured and draconian cuts to resolve the deficits in Florida and 

Isn't it time for Wisconsin GOP state legislators to join Ripon Republican state Sen. Luther Olsen in reconsidering Medicaid expansion, saving the state over $345 million over the next two years and covering 80,000 Wisconsinites? A new study says Wisconsin would "actually spend less in state funding if it were to expand Medicaid...The federal government would pay a much higher share of the costs ...." 

And, there would be a 9 percent decrease in Wisconsin's uninsured population (Urban Institute, Washington, D.C.). Gov. Walker, can you hear in Iowa and New Hampshire? (Both of these states expanded Medicaid with bipartisan support.) 

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

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