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Walker and Burke Differ Over Accepting Federal Medicaid Money

Voters will have a say in November on whether the state should accept federal dollars for Badger Care.

A referendum on the ballot will ask voters whether Wisconsin should accept federal dollars to expand the state’s Medicaid program.

Gov. Walker rejected the money last year and instead proposed his own plan to provide health care for the state’s poorest residents. Several groups call the decision short-sighted.

The topic prompted a heated exchange in last Friday’s gubernatorial debate.

The Affordable Care Act offered states enough Medicaid funding, to provide health care for all residents living below 133 percent of the poverty level. Instead, Gov. Walker opted to cover all people living at or below the poverty line. About 80,000 childless adults had been on a waiting list. The state then directed the thousands who earn above poverty, to the private marketplace. In Friday night’s debate, the governor touted his decision.

“We were able to draw down the waiting list that was in place under Gov. Jim Doyle for people living in poverty to get access to health care through Medicaid,” Walker says. "We eliminated it for the first time in our state’s history. Now, everyone living in poverty has access to health care through Medicaid. We helped people above poverty transition to the marketplace and we protected the taxpayers."

Walker says he turned down the federal money to expand Medicaid, because Washington promised to fully fund the program for only three years. His Democratic opponent Mary Burke, called rejection of the Medicaid dollars, fiscally irresponsible.

“It’ll be billions of dollars, and this is money that could come into Wisconsin’s economy. It fuels our economy and brings down the health care costs for everyone,” Burke says. "We know that when we turn down this money, people still get sick, it’s just that we’re not getting any money to pay for it."

Burke promised that if elected, she would accept federal Medicaid money, even if Wisconsin would eventually have to shoulder a percent of the cost, to cover more people.

Milwaukee County is not the only one that will put the item on its ballot. More than a dozen communities will ask voters to weigh-in on the Medicaid issue, and forward the results to state leaders.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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