Looking gift horse in the mouth becoming major political factor

Matt Pommer  Wisconsin Newspaper Association

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Mary Burke said she would accept federal funding for expanding Medicaid in Wisconsin – something that puts her at odds with Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s approach to implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act.

Walker’s approach, approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature, removes 92,000 people from Wisconsin’s version of Medicaid – the federal/state program of health care for the poor and disabled.

Those losing their coverage are eligible to buy individual health insurance through the marketplace under Obamacare. That act provides for total federal payment of expanded Medicaid costs for three years and 90 percent in following years.

Walker said he had doubts the federal government would pay for that approach in future years. He also expressed concern about citizens becoming dependent on such programs.

Walker rejected a state- government-operated market place, leaving implementation to the federal government. That, too, could become an issue in the gubernatorial race.

Late last month Citizen Action of Wisconsin, a liberal group, said there are “vast differences” between the individual market place rates in Wisconsin and those in Minnesota (where state government is operating the program).

The group said Wisconsin marketplace premiums for single coverage will average 79 to 99 percent higher than premiums in Minnesota before federal tax subsidies are applied. Compared to Minnesota, the rates are 136 percent higher in LaCrosse, 116 percent higher in Eau Claire and 112 percent higher in Milwaukee.

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, said Minnesota and Wisconsin have long had similar health-care systems and costs. She said the report questions whether Walker’s approach is best for Wisconsin.

“I encourage the governor to rethink his strategy and begin to work in the best interests of those he represents,” said Moore.

Walker’s rejection of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Medicaid aid has interesting political twists. Americans for Prosperity, a political operation associated with billionaires Charles and David Koch, is opposed to expansion of Medicaid programs across the country.

Americans for Prosperity could be an important group in Walker’s apparent national political ambitions.

Wisconsin historically has lagged behind most states in obtaining federal money, but that was largely due to the lack of large military bases in the state. As election days have approached, there usually has been criticism that the party in power hasn’t done enough to get federal money for Wisconsin.

The complaints seem to have had little impact, perhaps because the so-called failure has had little clear evidence. But Walker’s rejection of federal dollars for Medicaid is clearly visible. Early in his administration Walker rejected federal money for high-speed rail improvements from Milwaukee to Madison and in the Chicago- Milwaukee corridor.

The national media is focusing on the implementation difficulties of the Affordable Health Care Act. That’s likely to continue into the new year. Reporters in Wisconsin will be examining how the 92,000 persons removed from Wisconsin’s Medicaid program have fared with Walker’s approach.

In the interim, the State Republican Party is encouraging reporters to ask Burke about Walker’s union-busting efforts in 2011 and whether she would seek to overturn the law.

Republicans seem to think it’s a better topic than federal money for Wisconsin.

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