Unlike some other Republican Governors, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker will turn down the mirage of short term federal support to expand Medicaid. Instead, the first term GOP governor will outline a major initiative to reform the state’s entitlement programs when he speaks at the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce’s annual Business Day in Madison conference Wednesday. 

Sources in Madison tell RightWisconsin that Governor Walker’s initiatives would strengthen the safety net for the poorest in the state and incentivize able bodied adults without children and unemployed workers to seek to better themselves.

In October of 2009 enrollment in the BadgerCare+ Core Plan, which covers childless adults up to 64 years old up to 200% of the federal poverty level, was capped. Under Walker’s proposed reforms, the cap would be lifted, granting tens of thousands of Wisconsinites coverage, in exchange for lowering the eligibility threshold to 100 percent of the FPL. 

With his reforms, Walker aims to tame a budget buster while strengthening the programs for those for whom the programs were originally created

Even as the state’s finances were worsening, former Governor Jim Doyle expanded eligibility for the state’s various Medicaid programs to unprecedented levels. It prompted rare bipartisan agreement for a legislative audit, with Democratic State Representative Kathleen Vinehout commenting at the time, "The previous administration pursued dramatic Medicaid enrollment expansion seemingly without regard to rising costs or long term stability. Only in the past year were basic cost saving measures considered."

As the MacIver News Service reported in 2011:

  • BadgerCare was implemented in 1999 with an initial enrollment of 5,156
  • Exactly one year later, enrollment was at 66,545
  • BadgerCare became BadgerCare Plus in 2008 and was expanded to families with higher levels of income and included new groups
  • BadgerCare Plus Core was created in 2009 for childless adults making less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level
  • BadgerCare Plus Basic was created in 2010 for people waiting to get on to BadgerCare Plus Core Plan

At the Monona Terrace Convention Center Wednesday, Walker is expected to detail a plan that would transform Medicaid into a program that would serve a wider swath of the state’s poorest population, but would eliminate funding for others with incomes above the federal poverty level.

Overall, the state would see a two percent reduction in the Medicaid rolls under Walker’s reforms. 

The reform will make tens of thousands former Medicaid enrollees eligible to participate in the federally-run health insurance exchange, where they will be eligible for subsidized coverage. The reform is only expected to save around $800,000 in the biennium. However, the state will see larger savings in the out years than it would have had it accepted a deal offered by the feds. That plan traded short term funding for long term entitlement obligations that could cost the state more than $700 million according to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Under Obamacare  federal government proposed covering 100 percent of the cost of new Medicaid recipients if states’ expanded their eligibility levels. That support would taper off with the state responsible for an ever increasing share of the burden. Even  Republican governors in some states like  Arizona, Michigan and Ohio announced plans to take the offer and expand their Medicaid programs in exchange for the upfront federal dollars.  Walker’s reforms are a decisive rejection of that approach.

In addition, Walker is expected to include in his next budget a previously-reported reform of the state’s FoodShare program. Under the proposal non disabled adults without dependent children will be required to enroll in employment and worker training programs offered by the Department of Health Services, Department of Children and Families or Department of Workforce Development.  If able-bodied adults without dependent children choose not to enroll in these employment programs, they will be subject to federal time limits on nutrition assistance benefits.

Walker will also, according to previous reports will require many unemployed Wisconsinites to pursue four job opportunities per week, up from the current two. More details on his unemployment compensation reforms may also be detailed by Walker during his speech Wednesday.

Chart: Current federal poverty levels.