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Mandela Barnes press conference

Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor Mandela Barnes criticized Republican Gov. Scott Walker on Thursday for his refusal to accept the federal Medicaid expansion, following days of disagreement between the two campaigns over the cost of health insurance in Wisconsin.

The first television ad to come from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers' campaign since he and Barnes won the party's primary also hinges on the Medicaid expansion argument. The ad, launched earlier this week, accuses Walker of prioritizing his political ambitions over what's best for Wisconsinites.

The spot compares health insurance costs in Wisconsin to costs in Minnesota, citing a Kaiser Family Foundation report that said the 2018 benchmark health insurance plan sold in Minnesota was 47 percent less than a comparable plan in Wisconsin. 

Walker has said the ad gets the "facts wrong" because Minnesota implemented a reinsurance program to bring premiums down in 2018. Wisconsin, under Walker, approved a similar program that will take effect in 2019. 

Asked on Thursday about Walker's argument, Barnes said the reinsurance program won't have any impact on Wisconsin prices in 2018. He didn't say whether implementing the reinsurance waiver was a good idea.

"I think the best idea would have been the expansion of Medicaid," Barnes told reporters. "That is the best idea. That’s what we could have done, that’s what we should have done. It would have been the least expensive route and it would have been the most effective route. More people would have been covered."

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Barnes spoke with reporters after a news conference at the state Capitol highlighting Democrats' opposition to policies implemented under Walker including efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and reduce access to abortion. He was joined by state Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, representatives from Planned Parenthood and a recent University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate.

In an email, Walker spokesman Austin Altenburg said Evers has "no credibility" on the issue.

"Voters are smart enough to cut through the lies and understand that Scott Walker is working to make health care more affordable for families across the state," Altenburg said.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.