Scott Walker’s plan to hold down Obamacare premiums is poised to pass the Senate and Assembly this week—a potential victory for the Wisconsin governor in passing his re-election agenda.
The so-called “reinsurance” bill charts Walker’s arc from fierce opposition to the Affordable Care Act—particularly in the lead-up to the 2016 Republican presidential primary—to a partial acceptance of it. The shift reflects both the failure of Congress to repeal Obamacare and the governor’s own desire to slide toward the center ahead of a difficult general election this fall.
Walker has repeatedly rejected federal money to expand Medicaid health programs for the poor. But with Assembly Bill 885, the governor seeks to accept federal money to help hold down rising costs within the Obamacare individual insurance exchanges for those who make too much to qualify for federal subsidies.
“Obamacare is collapsing. Washington has failed to fix it. Wisconsin will lead!” Walker tweeted Monday.
The Assembly and Senate will take up the Obamacare plan today or Wednesday, sending it to Walker by the end of the week. Lawmakers wrapping up their work for the year are also taking up Walker bills to replace a troubled youth prison and require more welfare recipients to work.
On the Obamacare plan, Sen. Jon Erpenbach of Middleton and other Democrats have questioned why Walker is accepting one pot of federal funding while rejecting the extra federal money for Medicaid. The governor has argued the federal government can’t afford the Medicaid funds over the long term.
“If that (federal Medicaid) money won’t be there, how will this money be there?” Erpenbach asked last week of the reinsurance plan.
Joined by one Democrat, Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee last week approved Walker’s plan. In doing so, GOP lawmakers committed to paying the state’s estimated $50 million share of the reinsurance program without outlining where the state would find that money.
The budget committee also ordered the Walker administration to study bringing back Wisconsin’s high-risk insurance pool, which was phased out after the passage of Obamacare.
With the ACA marketplaces in Wisconsin, the past year has seen the loss of insurers and premium increases of 38 percent, not counting federal subsidies. To hold down those increases, Walker’s plan would pay as much as 80 percent of the insurance claims of people with high medical bills, decreasing insurers’ costs and enabling them to set lower rates.
This so-called reinsurance program is similar to one in Minnesota that is estimated to have lowered premiums by 20 percent this year compared with what they would have been otherwise. Oregon and Alaska also have established reinsurance funds, and federal reinsurance was also present in the ACA for its first three years.