Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has asked state lawmakers to delay proposed modifications of the state's Medicaid system due to the technology problems plaguing the rollout of President Obama's health care law.
Faced with the decision of whether or not to expand Medicaid earlier this year, Walker decided on a blended approach that depends on the federal health insurance exchanges being functional. Now he has decided to put things off.
Obamacare asks states to expand Medicaid, which currently covers people at or below the federal poverty level ($11,490 in 2013), to 133 percent of that amount.
But Wisconsin is in a unique spot. On the one hand, it has a more generous Medicaid system than most states, offering coverage to individuals earning up to 200 percent of the poverty level. On the other hand, the state caps the number of people who are able to enroll in Medicaid.
Walker’s solution was to remove the cap on enrollees, but bring the threshold for Medicaid coverage down to the federal poverty level. Then, he had planned to allow people earning over the federal poverty level to purchase subsidized insurance through the federally run exchange.
When I spoke to Walker about his proposal in March, I raised the possibility that technology problems would delay the start of the exchanges. At the time he specified that the changes were “conditional on getting the exchanges up and moving.”
Last week, after finding that under 900 people were able to sign up for insurance on the federal exchange in Wisconsin, he announced a decision to delay the changes that were supposed to kick in at the start of the year until April 1.
“Even though I didn’t do a state exchange and I didn’t take the Medicaid expansion, it’s the law, so we were going to make sure that people didn't fall through the cracks in our state,” Walker said on Friday at a luncheon in Washington, D.C., hosted by the National Review. “We’ve been monitoring this almost on a day-to-day basis and they kept telling us as they tell the Congress that ‘it’s gonna work, it’s gonna work, it’s gonna work.’ It’s kind of like Lucy with the football, so many points where the ball gets pulled out enough times you decide you gotta do something to fix it.”
He added, “Even though they’re not legally delaying the exchanges, for all practical purposes, the people we’re talking about aren’t going to be in.”
At the same time as he criticized the troubled rollout of Obamacare, he cautioned Republicans not to appear gleeful of the programs problems given the real world impact.
“One of things I caution Republicans on is don’t run out and spike the ball, don’t relish the fact that Obamacare’s not working,” he said. “In the end, it gives me no comfort to know there are people in my state who could financially fall through the cracks because the failure of the federal government kind of puts them in no man’s land.”