Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers called a special session of the state legislature to take advantage of a billion dollar offer of federal funds by expanding Medicaid benefits that way so many other Republican-controlled states have done. In fact, every state that sided with the Union in the Civil War-- except Wisconsin-- has already done this. Aside from Wisconsin, the only states refusing to expand Medicaid coverage are Texas, Florida (despite a ballot initiative instructing the state legislature to do so), Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Wyoming and South Dakota. Missouri voters have also passed a ballot initiative mandating an expansion but the legislature and governor have told the voters to fuck themselves. Red states that have expanded Medicaid include deep red hellholes like Idaho, North Dakota, Utah, Nebraska, West Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Louisiana, Arizona... So what's wrong with Wisconsin? Ah-- glad you asked.
Let me start by republishing a piece of an editorial in Madison's Capitol Times, first published November 25, 2020: The Wisconsin Legislature is a gerrymandered swamp run by self-serving Republicans.
The editors wrote that "The gerrymandering of Wisconsin legislative district lines has again produced the anti-democratic result that was intended by former Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislative leaders when they drew maps that would thwart the will of the people. This year, 46% of Wisconsin voters cast their ballots for Democratic state Assembly candidates, yet only 38% of the chamber’s 99 seats will be held by Democrats in the new legislative session. In this year’s state Senate races, 47% of Wisconsinites voted for Democrats, while just 38% of the seats went to Democrats. In a state where Democrats have prevailed in every statewide election since 2018-- for governor and lieutenant governor, attorney general, state treasurer, secretary of state, U.S. senator and, now, president-- it is wrong that Democrats will be outnumbered by an almost 2-1 margin in the next legislature. This anti-democratic arrangement has resulted in the corruption of policy making and the obstruction of honest and necessary governance since Walker and his henchmen implemented their gerrymandering scheme in 2011. Gov. Tony Evers is committed to drawing fairer and more representative maps when 2020 Census data makes that possible. It will be a fight, as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and his Republican allies will not give up their ill-gotten advantages easily. But the people are overwhelmingly on the side of fair maps, as referendum results and local government resolutions from across the state have signaled. With the results of referendums held Nov. 3, 55 Wisconsin counties are now on record for fair maps and an independent redistricting process."
Right now, the 33 seat state Senate has 21 Republicans and 12 Democrats and the 99 seat Assembly has 60 Republicans, 38 Democrats and one vacancy. This morning Wisconsin Public Radio reported that the proposal Evers asked the legislature to take up "would extend Medicaid health benefits to 91,000 additional people in Wisconsin by raising the income cap from 100 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $26,500 for a family of four, to 138 percent, or $36,570.
The $1 billion is an additional incentive from the federal government for states that have not yet taken the expansion. Evers has proposed a slew of ways to spend that money, including $200 million for broadband internet expansion, $100 million for lead pipe replacements, $100 million for bridge and local road projects and funding more than a dozen local construction projects across the state.
Wisconsin Republicans have for years opposed the expansion, calling it an unnecessary increase in welfare and arguing it could saddle Wisconsin with additional costs in the future, if federal support were to decrease... Republicans argue there are ample options for affordable health insurance on the private market. GOP leaders on the Legislature's budget committee recently rejected the governor's plan to include the expansion in the next two-year state budget, just as they did two years ago.
However, Evers has pledged to continue pushing for the expansion, even in the face of almost certain legislative defeat.
"Even if they do gavel in and gavel out (the special session), we will continue to advocate for this," the governor said at an event in Reedsburg on Monday. "A billion dollars is a lot of money. It’s a lot of money for the state of Wisconsin."
...A number of health care groups across the state have pushed for accepting the Medicaid expansion in recent years. On Monday, the Committee to Protect Health Care, a nationwide advocacy group, held a press conference highlighting some Wisconsin doctors’ support for the change.
"Many of our friends, family and neighbors are falling through the cracks and going without adequate coverage through no fault of their own," said Dr. Madelaine Tully, a family physician in Milwaukee County. "As a doctor, I’ve seen what happens when people go without coverage."
Tully and her colleagues argued the Medicaid expansion would save taxpayer money by providing more preventive care to people who need it, avoiding costlier care down the line that often has to be absorbed by providers if bills go unpaid.
"Wisconsin has a golden opportunity right now," said Dr. Brian Ewert, a nephrologist in Marshfield. "We have already squandered billions of savings."
I spoke with state Senator Chris Larson (D) today-- who will have a major announcement to make tomorrow-- and he explained exactly how this GOP pig-headedness is playing out. "If we had a functioning majority in our legislature, today would have been the day Wisconsin finally expanded BadgerCare, granting 92,000 adults health coverage while keeping $1.6 billion more of our hard-earned tax dollars here in Wisconsin as opposed to sending it to other states. Let's dive into the Republicans' math: instead of getting the 90%+ match from the feds in the Medicaid expansion, we will continue to get the 60% match and cover less people. This would be like if you went into a restaurant expecting to use a coupon for 60% off and the waiter let you know you can actually have it at 90% off and can bring extra food home for your neighbor. Most people would say that's a pretty good deal. Unfortunately in this analogy, Republicans would demand to pay more, leave their neighbor hungry, and storm out of the restaurant screaming about Barack Obama. Thirty-eight other states have figured this out, accepted the help for their neighbors, and improved the lives of millions. But if that wasn't bad enough, instead, Republicans are trying to make it even worse by turning away even more federal assistance. Today, Republicans held a hearing on SB354 to cut $300 from people’s federal assistance to their unemployed neighbors. This ensures even more of our federal tax dollars go elsewhere. We deserve better than these politicians who can't do back-of-the-napkin math."