Politics can be a cynical game, one in which debates about the issues that affect people’s lives are often treated like a sporting event rather than a pressing problem that we need to address. For people on the ground, however, these fights often have an all too real impact on their day-to-day lives.
Take the debate going on in our state right now surrounding the issue of whether we should opt into the federal Medicaid expansion offered to states, by the federal government, through the Affordable Care Act. Wisconsin is just one of 14 states who have, thus far, refused to opt-in to the expansion.
Opting-in would extend health care coverage to people who make an income below, or up to, 138% of the federal poverty line ($17,236 income for an adult this year). Right now, the state, through BadgerCare Plus, provides coverage to people who make an income below or up to 100% of the federal poverty line. It’s estimated that opting into the expansion could save the state up to $100 million annually (since the federal government would be footing a substantial portion of the cost), expand health care coverage to over 80,000 additional people, and could lower premiums on the individual marketplace in our state by between 7-11%.
Newly elected Democratic Governor, Tony Evers, made opting into the expansion one of the core tenants of his campaign last November. It came as no surprise, then, that it featured as one of the prominent proposals in the budget he submitted to the Republican-controlled state legislature earlier this year. Over 70% of Wisconsin voters said that they supported the state joining in the federal expansion when asked about the proposal in this April’s Marquette Law School Poll, showing broad bi-partisan support for this idea.
Despite mass public support for it, Republicans in the state legislature rejected enrolling the state in the expansion during the budget process, just as they have at every turn since the ACA became law in 2010. That decision has been costly for several reasons.
The state has spent an estimated $1 billion more on health care than we would have spent had we opted-in to the expansion right away. We’re continuing to waste hundreds of millions of dollars in tax-payer money to this day too because we are footing the bill for health care costs that the federal government would otherwise be covering most of if we opted-in to the expansion.
The uninsured rate in rural areas in states that have opted into the expansion have declined by 19% compared to just 6% for those people who live in rural areas in states that refused to opt-in. Rural areas in states that refused to accept the expansion were also much more likely to see hospitals close down. About 75% of rural hospital closures since 2010 have happened in states that refused the Medicaid expansion.
Most of alarming of all, it’s estimated that up to 15,600 people died ” between 2014 and 2017 as a result of their states refusing to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, according to a new working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research.” The decision to reject the expansion may very well have cost thousands of people their lives because they were unable to get the adequate care they could have otherwise gotten had these states chosen to opt-in to the expansion. These deaths were preventable had Republicans in Madison, and other red states, not played games with people’s care.
Opting into the expansion is good policy. We all pay federal income taxes, just like everyone else. That means we’ve all contributed to the money that the federal government has, and will continue to spend on Medicaid. Why should we continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars of additional money at the state level for a program we’ve already paid federal taxes towards, but aren’t see all of the benefits of because of our failure opt-in to the program?
We’re also paying extra money at the state level right now for a worse quality of care. Why should we continue to do that when accepting the federal money would bring better, more affordable coverage to people at a much cheaper cost to us?
Imagine what we could invest in with those millions of dollars that would be freed up by opting into the expansion too! We could make badly needed investments in infrastructure or revitalizing our education system, just to name a few.
Opting into the expansion could also lower premiums for everyone else. Opting into the Medicaid expansion would be a win for everyone across our state!
Opting into the Medicaid expansion won’t solve all the problems we face in our health care system. Far from it! However, it’s one the best tools we currently have at our disposal to help bring down health care costs across our state, and put us on a path towards providing better coverage to those who need it most.
It’s time to put aside partisan differences. Contact your State Legislators today and urge them to pass legislation opting us into the Medicaid expansion.