It has been more than five years since states were given the opportunity to expand Medicaid health care coverage to more low-income families, with the federal government covering the bulk of the cost.
In that time, opponents of Medicaid expansion, from right-wing think tanks to conservative Republican politicians, have done their best to spread misinformation in an attempt to influence public opinion against expansion, and in some ways, it’s worked. While public opinion generally favors Medicaid expansion, former Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans in the Legislature have used this misinformation and doubt to justify keeping healthcare coverage from tens of thousands of our friends and neighbors in Wisconsin.
Let’s take a look at some of the questionable claims have been made and set the record straight.
CLAIM: States that have accepted the Medicaid expansion are opting out or regretting the decision, as their budgets have been blown up.
FACT: Currently, 36 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid and taken the federal money. None have reversed this decision, and more states continue to look at expansion. Rather than busting budgets, Medicaid expansion has allowed states to realize savings by moving adults in certain state-funded health programs into expansion coverage and reduce their spending on uncompensated care as uninsured people gain coverage. Under the Medicaid expansion, the federal government will pay 90 percent of the cost from 2020 onward, compared to about 58 percent of the cost of traditional Medicaid in Wisconsin. Under Gov. Tony Evers’ plan, 82,000 Wisconsinites would gain coverage, the state would save $324.5 million over the next two years, and an additional $1.4 billion in federal money would come into our state. That would allow us to fund other crucial programs in health care, education and other areas.
CLAIM: Medicaid expansion is being pushed and supported by Democrats.
FACT: While many “blue states” have taken the federal Medicaid expansion, “red states” and states with Republican governors and legislatures have realized the benefits and gotten on board. These include Iowa, Kentucky, Utah, Idaho, North Dakota, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Arkansas, Louisiana, Arizona, Nebraska, Alaska and Montana. The most recent Marquette Law School poll of Wisconsin voters found 70 percent support Medicaid expansion, including 96 percent of Democrats, 68 percent of independents, and 44 percent of Republicans.
CLAIM: Medicaid expansion uses tax dollars to support people who don’t want to work.
FACT: Most people covered by Medicaid are already employed or are in the family of someone who works. According to a 2018 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 60 percent of working age, non-disabled Medicaid enrollees are working, and eight in 10 live in families with at least one worker.
CLAIM: Medicaid expansion helps low-income families but does nothing for the rest of us.
FACT: Medicaid coverage helps hold down health care costs for everyone. A 2016 report by the federal Department of Health and Human Services found that Medicaid helped reduced premiums by 7 percent. By covering families who otherwise would be uninsured, Medicaid allows for more preventative health care and less uncompensated care, reducing overall costs. Additionally, the cost savings states realize from Medicaid expansion allow states to fund a variety of other programs that benefit all of us.
CLAIM: The federal government can’t be trusted not to decrease the 90 percent reimbursement rate.
FACT: In the 50 year history of Medicaid, the federal government has only reduced Medicaid funding to states once, temporarily, in the 1980s. States rely on the federal government for funding in a number of other areas, such as transportation and education, and have no problems accepting federal money for those programs.
When the facts are laid out, Medicaid expansion is clearly the right choice for Wisconsin.
Sen. Bob Wirch, a Democrat, represents Wisconsin’s 22nd Senate District, which includes the city of Kenosha, most of the city of Racine, the village of Elmwood Park, and parts of the village of Mount Pleasant and the town and village of Somers.