Guest views: Walker should accept expansion of Medicaid
Wise politicians have a vision for the future, but they also must deal with the realities of the present.
For that reason, last week's news that 38,000 Wisconsinites who lost health insurance coverage when Gov. Scott Walker tightened eligibility limits earlier this year didn't sign up on the federal exchanges means some of those folks likely are going without coverage they previously had.
Coverage for nearly 63,000 people ended in April, and they had until June 1 to sign up for federally subsidized insurance under the Affordable Care Act. New state numbers show about 19,000 did just that, and nearly 6,000 others became Medicaid eligible.
Even more could have found a job with health insurance or got insurance through a spouse's employer. Still, there are thousands more without coverage because they either failed to sign up or couldn't afford coverage even with the federal subsidies.
Democrats have pounced on Walker, a Republican, for refusing to accept an additional $119 million in available federal money for 2013-15 to cover the entire cost of expanding Medicaid coverage for adults with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. The plan has the federal share gradually declining after 2016 until it reaches 90 percent in 2020. The state would pick up the remaining cost.
Walker said he is concerned that the debt-ridden federal government will renege on its promised funding, leaving states in the lurch.
Fretting over something that may happen in the future while leaving people needlessly without insurance in the present doesn't make much sense. If Walker's concern comes to pass, the state could at that point adjust its eligibility levels. It's hard to believe that any court could conjure up a legal argument to force states to unilaterally fund a state/federal program without sufficient federal help.
You don't have to be a cynic to believe that politics played a major role in all of this. Walker, along with almost every other Republican, staunchly opposes the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, which they believe is a massive government overreach. Of course, the framework of the ACA is a Republican idea, that is, getting more people to put skin in the game by requiring all who can afford it to buy health insurance.
Many Republicans argue that the matter could have been handled better without such a massive program. It has been speculated that Walker couldn't possibly have accepted the ACA Medicaid expansion without damaging his possible presidential aspirations among GOP faithful.
Walker has a point that the federal government's ongoing habit of throwing more money at problems than it collects in revenues can't continue and that the Medicaid expansion is a glaring example.
However, many of those trying to get by without insurance are inevitably going to break bones, get seriously ill or develop other ailments that require professional care. Without insurance, they will show up at emergency rooms or doctors' offices, and that cost will get shifted to everyone else.
The ACA may not turn out to be the best solution to this problem, but neither is crossing your fingers that the poor won't get sick or hurt.
Walker can and should accept the Medicaid expansion.
--The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram