Playing politics with Wisconsin health

Wisconsin Republicans have outright refused to accept Medicaid expansion. Not because of any pragmatic reason, but because they’ve allowed themselves to be bullied by their leaders into defying the will of the people. Despite calls for compromise from his own caucus, Speaker Vos refuses to give an inch in the direction of saving taxpayers money.

When you elected me to represent you in Madison, I pledged to listen and bring your voice to the halls of the Capitol. Over the past few months, I’ve been hearing you loud and clear with regards to Medicaid expansion. According to a recent Marquette poll over 70% of Wisconsinites support accepting Medicaid expansion, and yet Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says that expansion will come “over his dead body”. Medicaid expansion would deliver tangible benefits to the people of Northern Wisconsin—lowering our premiums while saving millions in taxes and delivering healthcare to more of the people who need it most.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government expanded Medicaid with additional funding to cover more people, conditional on state approval. Right now in Wisconsin, we pay for 40% of the cost when people on Medicaid receive care with the federal government covering the rest. Under the Medicaid expansion, the share that the state of Wisconsin must pay drops down to 10%, saving the state money that could be spent on fixing our roads and improving our schools.

By taking the expansion, we would cover 82,000 more Wisconsinites, providing vitally needed care to our most vulnerable citizens. These are our neighbors in nursing homes, who are stretching their limited incomes to make ends meet after long years of service to the community. These are our friends and relatives suffering from opioid addiction, who we have always in the back of our minds as we open the obituary pages preparing for the worst. These are our family members who need to drive hours to get basic medical care. Medicaid expansion would transform the lives of so many people here in Northern Wisconsin—in Ashland, Bayfield, Douglas, Sawyer, Iron, Price and Vilas counties over 2,600 people would suddenly have access to the lifesaving care at a price they can afford.

Not only this, but Medicaid expansion would lower premiums by $57 a month on average for people who receive health insurance from their employers or on the marketplace, according to a study recently released by Health Affairs. Expanding the Medicaid risk pool by adding 82,000 new people to it will sharply reduce costs for those who use private insurance. Accepting the federal funds will help everyone involved—patients, providers and taxpayers—it’s a no-brainer.

Despite these obvious benefits, Republican leaders in Madison would rather play politics with Wisconsin’s health. Medicaid expansion was a centerpiece of the budget Governor Evers unveiled earlier this year, but it was cut last month by the Republican-led budget committee.

Republicans in other states have realized that accepting the funds is a win-win for everyone involved—why can’t Wisconsin Republicans? To date, 37 states across the spectrum have accepted the funds. From Arkansas to New York, California to Kentucky, accepting the Medicaid expansion has saved taxpayers in other states billions. In this day and age when agreement across the aisle seems to be a rarity, one thing both parties across the country have been able to compromise on is accepting these funds.

Since 2014, not accepting the expansion has cost Wisconsin taxpayers over $1.1 billion, diverting funds from important areas like transportation and education. While our roads continue to fall apart and our schools suffer on shoestring budgets, time and time again Speaker Vos has been happy to burn more of your money to score political points. Bipartisanship is a two-way street—it’s time for the Speaker to come to the table and give the people of Wisconsin what they voted for.