The Wisconsin Legislature is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a measure that would keep 72,000 residents from being taken off the state's health-coverage plan for its low-income residents, but state Democrats say the delay would also postpone coverage for even more of the state's poor.
Starting Jan. 1, Wisconsinites earning more than 100 percent of the federal poverty line would be shifted off BadgerCare and into the Obamacare exchange to purchase insurance. Because of the tumultuous rollout of HealthCare.gov, Republican Gov. Scott Walker formulated a plan to delay the transition from BadgerCare until April 1.
BadgerCare offers insurance to Wisconsinites whose employers do not provide it and whose income is too high to qualify for Medicaid. The program covers people earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty line, but it will be rolled back to 100 percent of the federal poverty line, the least amount Americans can earn to qualify for premium tax credits on the exchange.
The timing of the rollback is what's now under consideration.
A delay would save taxpayers $23 million, the state's nonpartisan budget office estimates. And with October enrollment marking a meager 877 Wisconsinites, the governor's assertion that residents need more time to navigate HealthCare.gov could prevent a coverage gap for thousands of low-income shoppers.
Democrats aren't on board with the delay, however, because it would also delay adding an estimated 83,000 residents living below the federal poverty line who would become newly eligible for the program.
"You intend to pay for the cost of extending Medicaid/BadgerCare to these low-income Wisconsin citizens by delaying coverage to even poorer Wisconsin citizens by the same three months," wrote Democratic state Sen. Tim Cullen in a letter to Walker. "Put simply, you propose to pay to cover the second-lowest income group by delaying coverage to the very poorest Wisconsin citizens who have no coverage today."
Walker rejected federal money for Medicaid expansion, one of 25 Republican U.S. governors to do so. He has said he does not believe the federal government will follow through on its promise to cover the costs of expansion.
He defends the delay of the BadgerCare overhaul with a similar logic.
"People who are taking the Medicaid expansion are depending on the federal government living up to their commitment, a federal government that can't even get a website up and going," Walker said last month.
Since Walker's comments and the unveiling of his proposal, the Health and Human Services Department has made hundreds of fixes to HealthCare.gov. On Sunday, it announced that it met its goal to make the online federal exchange a smooth experience for "the vast majority of users."
Anecdotes reported in the media suggest that some Americans are still hitting obstacles when navigating HealthCare.gov. But numbers released by HHS say the site has been up and running more consistently, with low error rates and short wait times, especially when compared with the Oct. 1 launch.
Consumers have until Dec. 23 to sign up for exchange coverage that begins Jan. 1. If the Republican-controlled Legislature approves the delay, however, current BadgerCare recipients would be covered by the program through March, giving them more time to shop for insurance, but forcing other low-income Wisconsinites to wait longer for coverage.