Governing: Walker, the WHA and Medicaid expansion

By Bill Kaplan

On Tuesday, failed GOP presidential candidate Scott Walker got on the right side of winning with Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz. However, Gov. Walker is on the wrong side of history with Cruz, a demagogue whose favorite tactic is to shut down the federal government to get his way. Nevertheless, Walker is getting "a second act in national politics - including.... running for president" (Politico). Perhaps 2020. But Walker's gubernatorial approval ratings have shown Wisconsinites souring on his presidential fantasies. 

They want a governor who is not looking at Wisconsin through a rear-view mirror. Voters want governing. That means compromise, leadership, negotiation and working across party lines. And, putting aside personal ambition and doing what it best for Wisconsin. Expanding Medicaid. 

To date 31 states have taken 100 percent federal funding to expand Medicaid, including 10 states that were GOP-led and all states bordering Wisconsin. A new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) said: "Evidence from states that have expanded Medicaid consistently shows that expansion generates savings and revenue which can be used to finance other state spending priorities or offset much, if not all, of the state cost of expansion. Medicaid expansion is also bringing hundreds of millions of federal dollars annually to states, which ripples through state economies, creates jobs, and strengthens struggling and rural hospitals." 

Last week, the New Hampshire GOP-led state legislature gave final bipartisan approval to reauthorizing Medicaid expansion. The Union Leader said: "Under the plan, hospitals and insurance companies will pay the state's approximately $40 million share of the costs over the next two years when the federal government no longer pays 100 percent" (after 2016 federal funding declines to 90 percent in 2020 and beyond). The New Hampshire Hospital Association said: "We applaud (the) bipartisan vote....the (expanded Medicaid) program has successfully reduced the number of uninsured patients seeking care in emergency rooms; reduced the amount of uncompensated care provided by hospitals to those without insurance; and reduced the cost shift to those with insurance." 

Moreover, hospitals in Indiana, Louisiana, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia have also agreed to help pay the state share of Medicaid expansion after 2016. It's time for the Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA) to get off the sidelines and make the same offer to Gov. Walker. The WHA has endorsed Medicaid expansion, but action is needed to break the stalemate. 

The WHA reported that in 2014 hospitals were unable to collect $234 million from patients. Medicaid expansion in Wisconsin would sharply reduce uncompensated care and cost shifting to private insurers. Moreover, it would provide coverage for over 80,000 and save Wisconsin $1 billion through 2020-21 (Legislative Fiscal Bureau). As the RWJF report said it would be a win-win for Wisconsin - economically, fiscally and morally. Doing the right thing: now that's big and bold. 

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

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.