OZAUKEE PRESS EDITORIAL: How to improve the state’s physical and fiscal health

“Amateur Hour” was the hashtag used by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos when he ridiculed Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers on Twitter a couple of weeks ago.

The new governor earned the insult by making a show of directing Attorney General Josh Kaul to withdraw the state from a lawsuit designed to cripple the Affordable Care Act, only to be told by Kaul that he couldn’t do it because only the Legislature has that power.

Evers should have more carefully read the lame-duck laws his predecessor signed as he was vacating his office.

Then he would have known that one of them expressly ties his hands concerning the ACA lawsuit.

Vos and others in the Legislature‘s Republican majority can’t be blamed for getting a chuckle out of Evers’ gaffe, but they might want to temper the laughter long enough to consider that eventually the joke could be on them.

The lawsuit is about health care, and health care is one of the big reasons Evers, and not Scott Walker, is governor of Wisconsin.

Exit polls in the November election identified health care as the most important issue for voters who chose Evers.

What’s more, opinion polls have found that a majority of Wisconsin residents want the state to withdraw from the ACA lawsuit.

The significance of Wisconsin’s participation in the lawsuit is really only a matter of appearances.

A number of states with Republican-controlled governments are plaintiffs in the suit that seeks to have the ACA’s requirement that health insurance cover pre-existing conditions declared unconstitutional, and whether Wisconsin is one of them won’t affect the outcome.

The fact that the suit attacks the most popular feature of the law commonly known as Obamacare, however, is not lost on Wisconsinites, as Walker, who supported it, learned in the election.

Wisconsin’s costly refusal to accept increased federal Medicaid funding is another health care issue that persists after the election, and here Evers has a stronger hand. The Legislature controls the Medicaid decision, but the governor is making a case that should resonate with the public.

Evers wants to reverse the Walker Medicaid decision. To press the point, he plans to include new federal Medicaid money of $180 million a year in the state budget and will meet with citizens statewide to rally support for it.

Walker’s refusal in 2014 to expand Medicaid with funding by the federal government was in line with anti-Obamacare orthodoxy and may have been done with an eye on the Republican nomination for president that Walker coveted. In any case, it cost Wisconsin taxpayers more than $1 billion.

That’s a real number, verified by the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

The non-partisan bureau calculated that over five years Wisconsin spent about $1.1 billion more on Medicaid than it would have if it had not refused to expand Medicaid in line with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

Had Wisconsin expanded Medicaid, people earning 133% of the federal poverty level ($33,250 for a family of four) would have been eligible for the benefit, and the federal government would have paid for it.

Refusing the Medicaid funding puts Wisconsin in the minority of states.

Thirty-five states have taken the money and three more will be signing on because their voters approved Medicaid expansion in November referendums.

Wisconsin did effect a partial expansion of Medicaid, but that didn’t qualify for increased federal funding, and left thousands of adults who are just above the poverty line without coverage.

Citizen Action of Wisconsin and other advocacy groups support Evers’ effort to expand Medicaid and accept federal funding as a way to improve access to affordable health services.

Judging from the election results, a large segment of the general public supports it as a common-sense move to improve the state’s fiscal and physical health.

Will the Legislature approve the change. “Not going to happen,” Speaker Vos said last fall. “No way. Never.”

We’ll see.

Never underestimate what an amateur can accomplish when he has public opinion and common sense on his side.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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