JANESVILLE

Few turned out to speak at a state hearing Tuesday on the topic of extending a federal waiver that allows Wisconsin to administer its version of Medicaid, known as BadgerCare, instead of implementing the Medicaid expansion available through the Affordable Care Act.

The Gazette stayed for more than two hours of the three-hour hearing. One person spoke during that time.

The state will consider public comment on whether to apply for an extension of the waiver, which was approved for 2014-19.

The speaker was Jon Peacock, research director for the advocacy group Kids Forward.

Peacock noted Wisconsin and 18 other states did not accept the full expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Wisconsin’s BadgerCare program reduced the number of uninsured people but can do more to improve access and save taxpayer dollars, Peacock said.

Under the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, people earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level would be covered. BadgerCare only covers adults at the federal poverty level—$12,060 for an individual—so Medicaid expansion would grant 80,000 more people coverage, and the state would get federal money to cover costs, Peacock said.

State residents who earn more than the federal poverty level must obtain health coverage some other way, such as through an employer, in the private insurance market or through the federal exchanges at healthcare.gov.

Peacock said in an interview that accepting full expansion would save Wisconsin $190 million a year because of federal subsidies.

Tax dollars also pay for those subsidies, Peacock acknowledged, but he noted that those covered by federal insurance exchanges—as called for in BadgerCare—are also subsidized with tax dollars.

Michael Heifetz, state Medicaid director who conducted the hearing, rejected Peacock’s reasoning. He said Wisconsin provides coverage to every childless adult at or below the poverty line, something that had never happened before, and it works to move beneficiaries into better jobs so they can eventually move off government assistance and buy their own health insurance.

Some states that accepted the full Medicaid expansion are struggling to provide coverage, Heifetz said.

Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville, submitted her comments in writing but stopped by the hearing and told The Gazette she backs full Medicaid expansion rather than continuing with Wisconsin’s program for the same reasons Peacock outlined.

“I know people say tax dollars are tax dollars, but these are our tax dollars that are going someplace else,” Kolste said.

“I don’t know why this governor won’t take some of our tax dollars back, I really don’t,” Kolste said.

The state has only one other hearing on the subject planned for Thursday in Green Bay, but the public can comment in writing.

Comments will be accepted via email at wisconsin1115clawaiver@dhs.wisconsin.gov, fax at 608-266-1096 or mail addressed to Al Matano, Division of Medicaid Services, P.O. Box 309, Madison, WI 53707. The state is accepting comments through Jan. 4, 2018.

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