Wisconsin Weighs Delay in Removing Poor From BadgerCare

Walker: Where's the beef?
National Journal
Clara Ritger
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Clara Ritger
Dec. 4, 2013, 5:02 a.m.

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.

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