MIDDLETON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers on Wednesday called a special session for the Legislature to expand Medicaid in Wisconsin, a move Republicans have rejected for years and as recently as two weeks ago.
The Democratic governor took a new approach this time. He is earmarking $850 million in federal money that would come to Wisconsin if it expanded Medicaid to pay for more than 50 economic development projects across the state, many of them sought by Republican lawmakers who have opposed Medicaid expansion.
Turning down Medicaid expansion now will mean Republicans are also rejecting economic development projects in their own legislative districts, Evers said.
“It’s time, folks,” Evers said at a free health care clinic in Middleton before signing an executive order calling the special session. “It’s time, enough politics.”
Still, Republicans don’t have to vote on the bill even though Evers has called a special session to start Tuesday. They have opposed Medicaid expansion for years and earlier this month voted to remove expansion from Evers state budget proposal.
Thirty-six other states, including some led by Republicans, have already accepted Medicaid expansion. Two more — Missouri and Oklahoma — are scheduled to begin their expansions in July. Wisconsin has done a partial expansion, but not done enough to capture billion of dollars in savings and additional funding from the federal government.
Under the enticement included in the coronavirus relief bill adopted by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden, the federal government would boost its share of costs in the regular Medicaid program, which offers coverage for the poorest Americans. The bump in federal funding would last two years for the states that join the Medicaid expansion.
The federal COVID-19 relief bill Congress passed in March would provide Wisconsin more than $1 billion in new, temporary savings if Medicaid is expanded. That additional money would be for two years, but is on top of $635 million the state would save over two years due to a higher federal reimbursement through Medicaid expansion.
State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, a Democrat from West Point, said Wisconsin shouldn’t pass up the $1 billion in federal money.
“If we don’t take it now, I highly doubt that opportunity will ever come again,” Erpenbach said.
Expanding Medicaid has long been supported by Democrats and health care advocates, while Republicans have branded it as welfare expansion and said there’s no guarantee that federal aid would continue.
Republican legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, did not immediately return messages seeking comment. But they have repeatedly and recently made their opposition clear.
“It’s a nonstarter and we will continue to oppose the liberal wish list item of Medicaid expansion,” Vos said in March.
Accepting federal money available through the Affordable Care Act would increase the minimum income threshold to qualify from 100% of the federal poverty rate to 138%, which would increase the income eligibility for a single person from $12,880 a year to $17,774.
That would make about 91,000 more people eligible for BadgerCare Plus in Wisconsin.
According to a 2018 report by the state fiscal bureau, Wisconsin would have received an additional $2.8 billion in savings between 2013 and 2019 under full Medicaid expansion.