Why Walker Opposes Obamacare
His opposition to more federal dollars for Medicaid will hurt Wisconsin, but help his campaign for president.
Across the nation, governors have to decide whether to accept additional federal dollars to expand Medicaid in their state, which is one of the ways Obamacare increases the number of people with health care coverage. For Chris Christie, Republican governor of New Jersey, the issue was a no-brainer.
“It’s simple. We are putting people first,” Christie explained. “We have an opportunity to ensure that an even greater number of New Jerseyans who are at or near the poverty line will have access to critical health services beginning in January 2014.” Christie added that “expanding Medicaid will ensure New Jersey taxpayers will see their dollars maximized.”
Eight other GOP governors made the same decision as Christie: Jan Brewer in Arizona, Rick Scott in Florida, Terry Branstad in Iowa, Rick Snyder in Michigan, Brian Sandoval in Nevada, Susana Martinez in New Mexico, Jack Dalrymple in North Dakota and John Kasich in Ohio.
Not Gov. Scott Walker. His budget (which appears quite likely to be passed by the state legislature) turns down the federal dollars that would allow the state to cover 84,700 more people under Medicaid than his plan while saving money for Wisconsin taxpayers, as the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau concluded: it estimated the federal plan could save $119 million over the next two years and additional $340 million through 2021.
Walker and his legislative acolytes, like state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) have insisted they must turn down these federal dollars because the federal government might decide later to end this program because it is too expensive.
It’s true that Walker previously turned down federal money for high speed rail, but in that case he argued — accurately — there would be some additional costs for the state in creating and maintaining the program. That’s not the case here. The reality is that an estimated 28 percent of the state budget comes from federal dollars, all of which could some day be cut. Why pick out this particular program to resist?
The answer was provided by Dan Holler, a spokesperson for Heritage Action, the grass-roots activism arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, which is helping lead the opposition to Obamacare. “If you’re committed to making sure Obamacare doesn’t go into effect, you have to focus on the expansion and on the exchanges,” Holler told the business publication, Bloomberg.com. “Once you have people under a program, it’s really hard to change that system.”
Republican attempts to repeal the law in Congress or overturn it in the courts have failed. So the only avenue left is to fight the expansion of Obamacare, because once people have coverage, they will want it to continue. The Republicans goal, Bloomberg.com reported, “is to limit enrollments, drive up costs, and make it easier to roll back all or part of the law later.”
Obamacare achieves its impact — and lowers the cost of health care — by creating the largest pool of insured Americans it can. This helps spread the costs more evenly and can mean fewer visits to emergency care (the most expensive medical care) by those lacking insurance.
In California, which has embraced Obamacare, nearly three dozen private health plans have submitted competitive bids to provide coverage under the Obamacare model. The companies approved to sell individual insurance in that state’s health insurance exchange include leading insurers such as Anthem Blue Cross, Kaiser Permanente, HealthNet and Blue Shield of California.
The results were heralded by Betsy Imholz, director of special projects for Consumers Union, a division of Consumer Reports, the long-trusted magazine. “I’m impressed,” Imholz told Kaiser Health News. “I actually think they are good prices,” she said, especially for those who will receive federal insurance subsidies. Caroline Pearson, a vice president of Avalere Health, a consulting company in Washington, offered a similar take: The offerings “strike me as very competitive,” she told the publication. “It speaks to the number of carriers that were attracted to the market, and that the exchange created competition to drive down prices.”
The rates, in fact, were much lower than even the Congressional Budget Office had predicted.
If Obamacare succeeds, it will will really make Republicans look bad, as they did everything possible to stop it, voting 33 times in Congress to repeal the law. Hence the pressure on Republican governors to prevent Obamacare from ever being tested. As Brian Sikma of RedState.com explained, “It is quite likely that conservatives reviewing a field of Republican governors in the 2016 campaign will measure each governor’s commitment to repealing ObamaCare against how they acted on the voluntary expansion of Medicaid. In that case, (Scott) Walker’s handling of Medicaid puts him squarely in the lead among his peer governors” like Christie, Snyder, Kasich and Scott, who “opted to call for an expansion of Medicaid. “Walker, Sikma concluded, “has possibly secured for himself a unique front-runner spot among his fellow Republican governors and rumored 2016 presidential contenders on the issue of healthcare.”
Walker’s stance was overwhelmingly opposed by medical care professionals in Wisconsin: The Wisconsin Hospital Association, Wisconsin Medical Society, Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians and Wisconsin Chapter of the American College of Physicians all supported the federal plan to expand Medicaid in Wisconsin.
Nine Wisconsin counties passed resolutions urging Walker to accept the federal dollars, including Milwaukee, Dane, Dunn, La Crosse, Jefferson, Winnebago, Oneida, Lincoln, and Marathon Counties, which together represent more than one-third of the population of Wisconsin.Three more counties will be voting on such resolutions on June 18.
But Walker has cooly stood his ground, turning down a chance to save Wisconsin $459 million and provide health insurance coverage for an additional 85,000 people. The results will be bad for Wisconsin, but will help him greatly in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries.
Correction: An early version of this story listed just seven rather than nine counties that had passed resolutions urging Walker to accept the federal dollars to expand Medicaid.
People: Alberta Darling, Scott Walker