Matt Pommer: Will 'Walkercare' stir controversy?

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Matt Pommer
August 25, 2015

Gov. Scott Walker is the first Republican presidential candidate to outline a health insurance program to replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. It was short on many important details, but it seems to capture the approach the governor has used on other programs.

Walker would eliminate the taxes required to finance Obamacare and then use refundable income tax credits to help people obtain health insurance.

The governor's plan would base the tax credits on the age of people, rather than their financial situation. Eliminating the so-called “means testing” approach of Obamacare would be a major shift in government policy.

Experts explain that move would pinch the working poor, probably encouraging them to get less-comprehensive health insurance. Walker repeatedly has said he favors programs under which the poor have a “little skin in the game,” arguing that this reduces overall spending.

Walker would provide a tax break to middle- and upper-income people who don't get health insurance through their employers. Perhaps more important, at least politically, would be ending the additional personal income-tax bracket in which the wealthiest 1 percent pay to help finance Obamacare.

Financing the new income-tax credits would come from overhauling Medicaid, according to the plan. Walker would send block grants to the 50 states, allowing them to fashion how to care for the very poor and the frail elderly who have outlived their resources.

That might solve any federal budget problems by kicking the financial can down the road to the 50 legislatures. It could be a challenge for states such as Wisconsin that have older-than-average populations.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, also a GOP presidential candidate, criticized Walker's plan as a “new entitlement." Walker declined Jindal's request for a debate. Walker also declined to answer reporters' questions for plan details. The devil is always in the details in new government programs.

But Walker will need to provide those details and the problems a new program might create. He'll be successful if the media start calling it “Walkercare.”

The shift away from means-testing programs also has occurred under Walker's approach to privately run voucher schools. Initially, the voucher program was aimed at helping poor families in Wisconsin and was limited to Milwaukee. Walker has pushed for removal of income limits to get the voucher grants advanced into a statewide program.

Walker touted his approach to voucher schools during a campaign stop in New Hampshire. He said his secretary of education in a Walker presidency would be someone like Howard Fuller, former Milwaukee school superintendent.

Fuller also has served in state cabinet positions under Democratic Gov. Tony Earl and Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson. But Fuller would have none of the idea of serving in a Walker cabinet in Washington. Fuller said he and Walker have fought for parental choice for poor families, but he opposed Walker's expansion to a universal program.

Fuller also said he opposed Walker's program of requiring photo IDs to vote and drug testing for poor people. Fuller said he supported Obamacare, Common Core testing of students and increasing the minimum wage. Walker opposes all three programs.

But the governor surely will find his health insurance ideas are equally controversial.

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