State Views: Voters send mandate for Wisconsin to accept federal health care dollars

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Robert Kraig & Kevin Kane
November 21, 2014

On election night, advisory referendums asking Wisconsin to accept enhanced federal dollars for BadgerCare provided by the Affordable Care Act won by landslide margins. The referendums won decisively even in areas that also supported Gov. Scott Walker and conservative legislative candidates. Statewide, 73 percent of voters supported the measure in the 20 counties and cities. The referendums did well in south-central Wisconsin, garnering 62 percent in Jefferson County, 65 percent in Rock County and 82 percent in Dane County.

Since the election, many residents across Wisconsin have asked us how voters could have simultaneously voted overwhelmingly for taking the federal money for BadgerCare and for Gov. Walker and conservative legislators who oppose the policy?

The simple answer is that when voters support a candidate for office, they are not endorsing their entire issue agendas. While a voter may agree with a candidate on many issues, it is well established in academic research that Americans often vote based on an affinity with a candidate's personality, character traits and general approach to governing.

Politicians are misinterpreting elections when they assume that winning constitutes a public mandate for all of their policy positions. The public expects elected leaders to actually represent the views of their constituents. In the case of BadgerCare, the referendums make it clear that Wisconsin voters would like Gov. Walker and the Legislature to work constructively to expand access to affordable health care.

This is because whether they voted for Scott Walker or Mary Burke, a vast majority of Wisconsin voters understand that access to affordable health care is not a luxury but a necessity in the 21st century. They understand that the tens of thousands of young parents needlessly thrown off BadgerCare and now uninsured are one major illness away from a potentially life-threatening situation and from financial devastation. Voters of all perspectives understand that when a person is uninsured, illnesses that could have been caught early through screening and preventive care are much more likely to become serious, risking the long-term health of the patient and costing us all more in the long run.

Fortunately, there is a good way for Wisconsin to take the BadgerCare money that did not exist before. After Wisconsin turned down the money last February, a number of states received waivers from the federal government that address most of Gov. Walker's concerns. Iowa, for example, received federal money to adopt a plan very similar to Walker's, with extra money to make private insurance affordable for people just above the federal poverty line.

Given the federal government's willingness to be flexible, there is no good reason for Wisconsin to leave hundreds of millions of dollars on the table that could provide affordable coverage to tens of thousands of Wisconsinites.

The fact is that the majority voted for Gov. Walker and for BadgerCare. We profoundly hope Gov. Walker and the Legislature will take the voice of the voters seriously and look for a pragmatic solution. The people of Wisconsin deserve no less.

Robert Kraig is executive director and Kevin Kane is the lead organizer for Citizen Action of Wisconsin, an advocacy group that champions quality affordable health care for everyone in Wisconsin. Address 221 S. 2nd St., Suite 300, Milwaukee, WI 53204. Contact Kraig at 414-322-5324 or [email protected].


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