MADISON – The state would reap $1.6 billion in tax savings — more than 2½ times original projections — if it provided health care to more Wisconsinites under a provision of the recently passed federal COVID relief legislation.
The measure is meant to induce Wisconsin and 11 other states to follow the 38 states that have fully expanded health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
The top Republican in the Wisconsin Assembly said he won’t take the deal and no amount of federal money could get him to change his mind.
“I think the State of Wisconsin has enough resources to be able to utilize, to make sure we have all of our priorities funded and we’re not going to do it by expanding welfare,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester.
“Trapping people in the life of poverty is not something that there’s ever the right amount of money to do.”
Democrats have long argued the state should participate in a program that would result in tens of thousands of more people getting coverage while seeing the state’s costs drop by hundreds of millions of dollars a year. With the latest enticement, there’s even more reason to do what most states have done, they said.
Democratic Rep. Daniel Riemer of Milwaukee said Vos’ opposition to the plan doesn’t make sense, in part because he agreed to a limited expansion of health care programs when Scott Walker was governor.
“Robin Vos has already expanded welfare. He should just get over it and do it, do what’s right for Wisconsin,” Riemer said.
The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, includes a provision that dramatically boosts federal aid for states that make programs like Wisconsin’s BadgerCare Plus available to those earning up to 138% of the federal poverty level.
Most states have agreed to the arrangement because it lowers their costs while increasing the number of people with health insurance. Among those that have done so are all of Wisconsin’s neighboring states and some reliably Republican states, such as Oklahoma, Arkansas and Utah.
For the next two years, the arrangement was projected to provide Wisconsin with a benefit of about $600 million.
Then came the federal economic stimulus, which includes an additional one-time boost in funding to encourage Wisconsin and the 11 other states to expand coverage.
That measure would provide Wisconsin another $1 billion over two years. In all, the state would see a benefit of more than $1.6 billion, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, did not say Wednesday what the majority leader thinks of accepting the additional funds.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has long championed expanding health care programs, but he cannot do that without the backing of Republicans who control the Legislature.
Other states may take a different approach. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is willing to discuss the expansion but wants more details about it, her spokeswoman recently told the Washington Post.
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.