Gov. Scott Walker’s changes to Wisconsin’s BadgerCare Medicaid program will result in about 19,000 more people getting coverage, even after nearly 63,000 people who earn more than poverty level are dropped, based on figures released Monday.
The changes proposed by Walker and approved by the Legislature restricted access to Medicaid to those whose earnings are at or below the poverty level. At the same time, Walker expanded coverage to childless adults who previously had been on a waiting list.
Walker made the changes at the same time as he rejected federal money under President Barack Obama’s health care law to pay for an expansion of Medicaid to cover everyone earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level. Republicans praised the move as a way to make Medicaid available only to the most needy, while Democratic critics and a variety of health care advocates said the state was foolish in not taking federal money to cover more people.
Estimates as to how many people would be affected under the changes has fluctuated since Walker proposed them last year. Most recently, Walker’s Department of Health Services predicted that about 75,000 people would lose coverage while 82,000 would be added.
The figures released Monday show actual enrollments through the end of March. Instead of 75,000 being kicked off Medicaid, only 62,776 lost coverage at the end of March. They have until June 1 to purchase subsidized insurance through the online marketplace created under the federal law.
Walker’s administration also reported that 81,731 childless adults had signed up for coverage, nearly exactly as many as expected.
The net effect is an addition of nearly 19,000 people to Wisconsin’s Medicaid program under Walker’s changes.
Walker has touted his approach as he runs for re-election this year, and considers a 2016 bid for president, pointing to a Kaiser Family Foundation report that found Wisconsin is the only state without a gap in coverage.
“Our entitlement reforms make sure Medicaid is a safety net for our state’s neediest citizens and protect Wisconsin’s taxpayers from the uncertainty surrounding the federal government’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act,” Walker said in a statement.
Walker’s expected Democratic opponent, Mary Burke, issued a statement saying Walker’s approach on Medicaid was driven by politics, not what’s best for taxpayers.
“I’m very concerned that those who lost state coverage may wind up being treated with uncompensated care, which raises costs for the rest of us, and that this decision cost us dollars that would have created jobs and strengthened our economy,” Burke said.
Just how many of the roughly 63,000 people losing state Medicaid coverage have actually purchased private insurance through the online marketplace remains unknown.
Walker’s Department of Health Services said in its release Monday that state agencies have “implemented an aggressive outreach effort” to make people aware of how the law changes affect them, highlighting 10 different mailings that went to the people expected to lose coverage.
It takes more than just mailings to make people aware of what they need to do, said Bobby Peterson, executive director of ABC for Health, a nonprofit law firm in Madison that helps people get health care.
“Coverage gaps still loom very large for people uniformed about coverage opportunities,” Peterson said.
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