MADISON — A Republican state senator says the state should slow down Gov. Scott Walker’s plans to shift thousands of patients from state coverage into the federal health care program, citing concerns that the program won’t be up and running as scheduled by the beginning of 2014.
But Sen. Alberta Darling’s suggestion faces opposition from within her own party, with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos flatly saying, “Not going to happen.”
The federal insurance exchanges are supposed to be open for enrollments by Oct. 1 and operating in earnest by Jan. 1, 2014. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has said it will meet those deadlines, but even supporters of the health care overhaul acknowledge that the dates may be too ambitious — in part because of the massive task and potential challenges with computer systems.
Walker has proposed moving tens of thousands of state residents above the federal poverty level from BadgerCare Plus — the state Medicaid coverage — onto the federal insurance exchanges, which will offer private coverage to the uninsured and subsidies for low-income consumers.
In doing so, Walker is turning down a federal offer that would allow the state to expand its Medicaid programs by 96,000 people and, in addition, receive enough federal tax money to boost Wisconsin’s budget by another $100 million. The governor has said he’s concerned the federal government won’t be able to keep its promise of long-term payments.
As a contingency plan, Darling and the Wisconsin Hospital Association have floated the idea that lawmakers consider using federal funds to allow low-income patients to stay on state Medicaid for another year or so. Hospitals worry that consumers would end up confused or even without insurance altogether, adding to hospitals’ costs if they end up receiving emergency-room care that they can’t afford.
Darling and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, both emphasize that the hospital association’s plan isn’t endorsed by Senate Republicans as a whole. Vos put it more bluntly: “We are not going to do that.”
Jon Peacock, research director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, said the hospitals’ proposal is an improvement over Walker’s plan. He backs permanent Medicaid expansion.
“I think a lot of people are getting increasingly worried for a lot of reasons,” Peacock, said of the exchanges. “They’re (the federal Department of Health and Human Services) stretched so thin right now.”
But Republican state Rep. Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield said any problems resulting from the implementation of the federal health care law should be blamed on the Obama administration and its supporters.