Walker Tries to Exchange-Proof Wisconsin

by Christian Schneider

Last February, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker announced he would be rejecting Obamacare’s federal Medicaid-expansion funds. Instead, Walker’s budget proposal moved 77,500 adults who were on Medicaid but earned above the poverty line to the federal Obamacare health-care exchanges, which debuted in October. But now the disastrous rollout of the law is threatening his plans.

It was a neat bit of political jujitsu — for years, Democrats have been lauding Obamacare, and Walker essentially gave them what they asked for. Walker then used the money he saved by extending Medicaid coverage (called “BadgerCare” in Wisconsin) to 82,000 childless adults below the poverty line, thereby increasing total health coverage in the state without setting up a state exchange or taking Medicaid-expansion money, a temptation to which many Republican governors fell prey.

But even Walker couldn’t have foreseen what a Hindenburg-like catastrophe the Obamacare rollout has been. Since the federal exchanges went up on October 1, only 877 individuals in Wisconsin have picked a health plan on the Healthcare.gov website. Yet the state has already begun to send cancellation notices to BadgerCare recipients who need to be shifted to the Obamacare exchanges, which will lead to a coverage gap for people who can’t enroll.

Yesterday, Walker announced a three-month delay in shifting people to the exchanges, hoping to keep people on the state plan until Obamacare is ready. Walker plans on calling the Republican-controlled legislature in to a special session in early December to extend the state plan. “I’m not going to let the failures of the federal government bring down people who are caught between systems that just aren’t working right now,” Walker said at a press conference Thursday. So while Walker’s clever plan avoided the downside of Obamacare on the front end, he now has to deal with its tentacles on the back end. President Obama may have broken health care, but Walker wants to make sure he’s not forced to buy it.

— Christian Schneider is a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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