Gov. Scott Walker's big decision
A commentary by Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, a statewide organization that advocates for guaranteed health coverage, good jobs, and democracy.
In the budget he will introduce in February, Gov. Scott Walker will determine whether hundreds of thousands of additional Wisconsinites have health coverage.
People who lack access to stable and affordable health coverage do not have a fair shot at the American dream because they face a constant threat of having their careers devastated by health disasters that also become financial disasters.
The proper role of our government is to step in and fill the gaps when the private market fails to provide equal economic and social opportunity.
This is where the national health care reform law comes in.
One of the most important ways health care reform expands coverage is by filling the holes in Medicaid (BadgerCare in Wisconsin) for low income residents. However, the U.S. Supreme Court in upholding the law gave states the option of turning the new Medicaid money down.
BadgerCare works well for low income parents and caretakers of minor children but most low income people without minors fall between the cracks.
There are over 146,000 Wisconsinites on a growing waiting list. A report by the highly respected Kaiser Family Foundation finds that if Wisconsin takes the new Medicaid money in 10 years an additional 211,000 Wisconsinites will be enrolled in BadgerCare.
Filling the holes in BadgerCare is essential because the health insurance market has failed to provide low income Wisconsinites with affordable health insurance options, and low wage jobs are far less likely to include affordable coverage.
Taking the money will give hundreds of thousands of low income Wisconsinites the freedom to control their own health care decisions and to get ahead economically,
Accepting the new federal Medicaid money will also create jobs.
According to an analysis by Jack Norman commissioned by Citizen Action of Wisconsin and Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, the $12 billion in federal money for BadgerCare will generate a net of 10,000 new jobs in the health professions.
The public good done by filling the holes in BadgerCare justifies increased state spending, but the deal offered to Wisconsin under health care reform is so favorable that the state budget will actually save millions of dollars.
According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Wisconsin would actually save $495 million over the next 10 years by accepting the increased Medicaid money.
With a deal this good for Wisconsin, it is hard to believe that any responsible leader would refuse it.
Yet Gov. Scott Walker seems poised to do so.
The most plausible explanation for Gov. Walker's hesitation are political calculations such as his desire to placate Tea Party extremists who want to sabotage health care reform at all costs, and the influence of special interests such as the big insurance companies.
Such an act of public policy sabotage would be shameful.
The Governor does not have to announce his decision until he introduces his state budget in February, so there is still time for him to consider the true public interest, and do the right thing.