Konopaci 12/11/19

The Pew Charitable Trusts reported a few weeks ago that the politics of Medicaid expansion have changed.

"Year by year, resistance to extending Medicaid to more low-income Americans in conservative states has given way," the nonpartisan research and public policy organization declared. "The trend seems likely to continue into 2020."

Except, it needs to be said, in Wisconsin, where anti-health care expansion Republicans continue to rule the state Legislature.

I was struck by a map of the United States that accompanied the Pew report.

Wisconsin sticks out like a sore thumb among its neighbors — Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Michigan — all of which have voted to expand Medicaid under the the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act.

Even more conspicuous is that Wisconsin falls in line with the most extreme red states in the country, the likes of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina. All of which, of course, underscores what many of us predicted when former Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow slash-and-burn Republican colleagues in the Legislature took control of state government in 2011 — that people would soon be calling us Wississippi.

We may be paying slightly lower taxes, but our flagship university has taken some hits in the rankings, our highways and streets are judged among the nation's worst, and our once pristine rivers and lakes are showing signs of contamination thanks to weakened rules and regulations. Mississippi and many of the other southern states, it should be noted, pay lower taxes, too.

According to Pew, 36 states, plus Washington, D.C., have now opted to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. Many of them have Republican governors and GOP-controlled legislatures. But, they've been convinced that expanding Medicaid not only provides coverage to their low-income citizens — it's also become popular with voters.

In Missouri, for instance, where GOP state officials have refused to expand Medicaid, organizers are well on their way to collecting enough signatures to put the question on next year's ballot. And last year, Nebraska, Idaho and Utah submitted applications to the federal government to expand Medicaid after voters approved ballot initiatives.

But, alas, Wisconsin is becoming more and more an outlier. We've gotten rid of Scott Walker. But we're stuck with a group of legislative ideologues who would believe it's more important to show disdain for Obamacare than to expand health care coverage for more of Wisconsin's low-income citizens.

So when new Gov. Tony Evers — noting that 70% of Wisconsin citizens have said they want expanded Medicaid — proposed that Wisconsin join the crowd, he was immediately rebuffed by the twin naysayers, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.

Rather than expand Medicaid to cover 82,000 more Wisconsin citizens at federal expense, Vos and Fitzgerald, self-proclaimed fiscal watchdogs, have managed to turn away more than $1 billion in federal funding. That money could have freed up state dollars for pressing needs — mental health services, the opioid crisis or even for schools and perhaps highway maintenance.

Vos, in particular, has made it clear he will never vote to expand health coverage under the ACA. Throwing away federal dollars has become a specialty with him and his Republican colleagues — everything from the Medicaid funds to passenger rail expansion to food stamp programs.

Little wonder that Wisconsin now ranks 45th in the country sharing in federal funds.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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