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Last week, Wisconsin GOP state legislative leaders said Medicaid expansion would be deleted from Democratic Governor Tony Evers’ budget. Evers responded: “I’m going to fight like hell for Medicaid expansion and need your (voters) help to get it done. I need you to call your legislator(s) and tell them you support Medicaid expansion. … Red states and blue states and purple states all … decided years ago – years ago – that they would take this (federal) money and invest it in their citizens.” Spot-on.

Former Arizona GOP Governor Jan Brewer embraced the same common sense in expanding Medicaid in 2014, with 100 percent federal funding, declining to 90 percent in 2020 and thereafter. Brewer said: “(T)here comes a time (when) you have to look at reality. You have to do the math. …It’s not only a mathematical issue, but it’s a moral issue.” 36 states have expanded Medicaid, including 3 in process. 13 were GOP-led. And, only 3 states in the Midwest have said no, Missouri, South Dakota and Wisconsin (Kansas is moving forward).

The nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated that the enhanced (90 percent) federal Medicaid expansion funding would allow Wisconsin to substitute federal for state spending, saving $324.5 million (Wisconsin has left over $1 billion on the table for other states by not expanding Medicaid). Moreover, Medicaid expansion would cover 82,000 more Wisconsinites. But state GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos just says no.

Vos, breaking with GOP governors and legislators around the nation, calls Medicaid expansion a “massive welfare expansion”. However, Medicaid is a health care program that covers low-income (mostly working) and middle-class Wisconsinites. The elderly and disabled make up 28 percent of state enrollees, but account for 69 percent of total state Medicaid expenditures, mostly for long-term care (Kaiser Family Foundation).

On top of that, 55 percent of Republicans support “allow(ing) states to expand their Medicaid programs” (Kaiser Family Foundation). Moreover, the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association strongly support Medicaid expansion. And, while state GOP legislative leaders were saying no hundreds of Wisconsin doctors came to the Capitol to support expanding Medicaid. Finally, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network has started a $4.5 million national campaign “Medicaid Covers US” to expand Medicaid in the 14 hold-out states, including Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin spoke out: “For years, former Governor Walker and Wisconsin Republicans put politics ahead of progress and refused to accept a federal investment in our BadgerCare (Medicaid) program. We should no longer … foot the bill for other states to expand Medicaid. … Governor Evers’ plan to accept a federal investment in our BadgerCare program will expand quality coverage for 82,000 Wisconsinites, save taxpayers money and help close health care coverage gaps.” Amen.

It’s time for other GOP Wisconsin legislators to listen to Republican state Senator Luther Olsen: “I honestly think we have to take it (federal funding for Medicaid expansion)… We need to look with an open mind what it does for the state of Wisconsin.” Common sense.

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


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