Rep. Debra Kolste: Walker should accept Medicaid money

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September 17, 2014

MADISON--Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett agreed recently to accept federal funds to expand Medicaid, and a half million more Americans gained access to health care.

Corbett, a conservative Republican, held out until the evidence and arguments for accepting the money became overwhelming. Pennsylvanians were being hurt.
Wisconsin is at that stage. The Medicaid expansion has fallen victim to partisan politics and Gov. Scott Walker's national political aspirations. Wisconsinites are being hurt, and I mean all of us.

Walker now faces a $1.8 billion hole in the budget due to poorly conceived tax policy and a lagging state economy. Fiscal reality makes it negligent to continue to reject the Medicaid money.

The nonpartisan and respected Legislative Fiscal Bureau reports that forgoing the money has cost state taxpayers $206 million and will cost up to $315 million more over the next three years.

The decision means we pay more to provide less health care coverage. It means that those with insurance pay higher premiums, and it means that the amount of “free'' health care provided to the poor will remain high. The cost of “free'' care is absorbed by hospitals and passed along in the form of higher health care costs and higher insurance premiums.

Uncompensated care has been reduced by 30 percent in states that adopted the Medicaid expansion.

An exhaustive study by Citizen Action of Wisconsin revealed that health care premiums for every person in Wisconsin increased by $251.29 due to the rejection of the funds. In Rock County alone, the Walker decision will cost more than $20 million in federal funds this biennium.

Those funds would have helped create jobs in medical fields in Wisconsin at a time when our state is creating jobs half as fast as the rest of the country.

Walker and his supporters argue that accepting federal Medicaid money will cost more in the long run. The Governor says he expects the federal government to renege on its promise, leaving Wisconsin taxpayers holding the bag.

That notion has been derided by experts and editorial boards across the state. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which has endorsed Walker, referred to this idea as “a phantom argument.'' The state can opt out of the program at any time.

The governor seems happy to accept federal transportation and education funds, just to name a couple of areas. His positions are inconsistent.

Wisconsin is worse off because the Walker administration hindered the Affordable Care Act and because it declined the Medicaid money.

The decision on the federal funds can be reversed.  It was reversed in Pennsylvania, and it should be here.

Debra Kolste represents the 44th District in the Wisconsin Assembly.

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