Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has gone all in on his 2016 presidential hopes, using the backs of the state’s poor as chips. It says here he will lose the bet.
Some background: Walker has decided to opt out of expanding Wisconsin’s Medicaid rolls under Obamacare, even though the Federal government would have paid most of the cost. For a Tea Party favorite who has his eye on the White House (and anyone who has followed Walker’s career knows his history of using one office as a stepping stone for a higher one) this was a foregone conclusion.
But unlike his Republican governor colleagues who have made the same choice, Walker added a nasty twist – he is actually going to lower the income eligibility to qualify for Medicaid, known as BadgerCare in Wisconsin. Yes, that you read that right, lower. The idea, as he explains it, is to make people more responsible for their own affairs and encourage them to get off government programs. He estimates about 87,000 people in a state with a population of about 5 million will lose coverage under his policy. But he adds that by lowering the eligibility level, another 82,000 people will become eligible for BadgerCare, making the net loss only 5,000.
Those kicked off the program will be told to purchase coverage through the new insurance exchanges set up under Obamacare. That law would subsidize their purchases so that for example, a family of 4 with $23,550 in annual income would pay $39 a month in premiums, according to figures from Walker’s office.
Politically, this looks like a real winner to the governor for two reasons. The first is obvious and already stated – there will be no nasty questions about helping Obamacare if he gets as far as a 2016 Republican presidential debate.
The second reason is more subtle, but also farther reaching in the world outside of the right-wing Republican echo chamber – his actions increase the odds that Obamacare will have a rocky start and or even fail. As passed by Congress, Obamacare envisioned have states expand Medicaid, with Washington paying most of the cost, or lose all Federal funding for that program. The U.S. Supreme Court removed the stick of loss of revenue to states that did not expand, opening the way for Walker and other governors to opt out of doing so.
The law also gave states the right to set up their own insurance exchanges for the rest of their citizens to buy health policies, with the federal government stepping in if they decided not to. Walker obviously decided not to. His two decisions, then, take all responsibility for Obamacare in Wisconsin out of his hands, while placing on it a bigger burden than originally intended. In 2014 when the exchanges start, be ready for Walker and the right-wing echo chamber to triumph every glitch without mentioning that their own actions put more stress on the system than it was designed for.
This is a losing strategy for Walker. By 2016 the exchanges will have matured and worked out their kinks. The benefits of Obamacare will be obvious. Republicans ran hard against Obamacare in the 2012 presidential election and were walloped in Wisconsin and nationwide. If they do so again in 2016, they will be spanked even harder. But inside the right-wing echo chamber, that is not obvious and the poor of Wisconsin suffer as a result.
State Rep. Sandy Pasch, a nurse who represents some of Wisconsin’s poorest citizens, summed it up well in a release: “Governor Walker said no to extending BadgerCare coverage for up to 175,000 Wisconsin residents. … He chose Tea Party extremism over the health and interests of our citizens.”