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Lawmakers Spar Over Medicaid Reform Delay

The Legislature’s budget committee has voted to delay Medicaid changes in Wisconsin for three months.

Under Gov. Walker’s original plan, 83,000 poor, childless adults were to become eligible for Medicaid in January.

At the same time, the state would cancel coverage for 77,000 people with incomes just above poverty and direct them to the new federal marketplace.

But problems with healthcare.gov prompted Walker to ask lawmakers to put the changes on hold until April 1.

Advocates for the poor told the committee that the delay would help some people but hurt others. It would help the 77,000 losing Medicaid, by giving them until April 1 to obtain private coverage.

But Kara Koonce says it could harm the 83,000 expecting to join Medicaid in January. She works for the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources.

“Many of these individuals have been waiting for coverage for a very long time. They have been on the BadgerCare Core waiting list and this will have a negative impact on them as they will be stuck in a three-month coverage gap,” Koonce says.

Koonce urged lawmakers to find another solution. Another speaker applauded the temporary reprieve for those losing Medicaid, but also urged lawmakers not to fund the extension on the backs of those promised new coverage.

“You have the opportunity to help a lot of people in Wisconsin. You need to stand up for those folks and to do right by them.”

Bobby Peterson is executive director of ABC for Health, a non-profit public interest law firm in Madison. He told the committee that no one in Wisconsin would be losing Medicaid coverage, if Gov. Walker had accepted federal funding to expand the program. Peterson directed his comments at Republicans.

“The argument that we’re gonna send this federal money back or not take federal money – ridiculous. That would be like Rep. Nygren saying we’re not going to take federal money for the Marinette shipyard. You’d never do it. Or Chairperson Darling saying we’re not going to take federal money for the Zoo Interchange. It’s just a ridiculous argument and it needs to be called for what it is – a political excuse,” Peterson says.

Gov. Walker said earlier this year he didn’t want the federal money because there was no guarantee it would continue over the long term. At Monday’s hearing, Republicans defended Walker’s alternative, and more expensive, reform plan.

Rep. John Nygren said President Obama is to blame if people here go without health coverage.

“The fact that we spent $600 million to $700 million on a website that’s not functioning, that’s why we’re today. Let’s not lose sight of that fact,” Nygren says.

Nygren’s colleague, Assemblyman Dale Kooyenga, pointed an accusing finger at Democrats and those who support the federal healthcare law.

“You try to design this utopian plan and it has egg on its face. And all we’re trying to do here is create less waves in the pool and giving us three more months to deal with the very devastating impacts, the real impacts that this legislation at the federal level is having on real families,” Kooyenga says.

Republicans say those impacts include the cancellation of plans for some, or higher premiums.

The few Democrats on Joint Finance urged the state to reverse its decision on Medicaid. Rep. Cory Mason argued that with the federal money, there would be no cancelling or delaying coverage.

“Couple weeks before Christmas. I just don’t understand the values that are driving these decisions,” Mason says.

The amendment failed. All Republicans on the committee and one Democrat voted to delay the Medicaid changes until April 1. The bill now goes before the Assembly on Wednesday.

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