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MILWAUKEE — Gov. Tony Evers vowed Thursday to “fight like hell” for his plan to expand Medicaid in the next state budget, in spite of Republican lawmakers’ newly announced plans to jettison the measure.

Evers said Medicaid expansion is broadly popular, including among many Republicans, and would infuse more than $1.6 billion into the state’s health care system.

Still, Evers declined to say if he would sign a state budget that excludes Medicaid expansion. GOP leaders of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee announced late Wednesday that their first budget move next week will be to strip the proposal and more than 100 others from Evers’ budget.

At a press conference at Milwaukee City Hall, Evers said he believes he — and a mobilized campaign of public support — can change that.

“I’m here today with a message for the people of Wisconsin: I’m going to fight like hell for Medicaid expansion and I need your help to get it done,” Evers said.

But GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos wasn’t budging Thursday, calling the plan a “massive welfare expansion” that Republicans cannot support.

Of the approximately 82,000 Wisconsinites who would be newly eligible for the federal-state health coverage program, Vos said about half already have coverage through the exchanges created by former President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law.

The other half are not covered but are eligible for low-cost coverage through the exchanges, said Vos, R-Rochester.

“None of us ran on an expansion of welfare,” Vos said at a separate news conference at General Mitchell Airport.

‘Moral failure’

Evers was joined at his press conference by Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Democratic lawmakers and other Medicaid expansion advocates.

Barnes said rejecting Medicaid expansion is a “moral failure” on the part of GOP lawmakers. He said it’s ironic that Republican lawmakers announced their plan to scrap Medicaid expansion at the same time they were holding an “elite” $1,000-a-plate fundraiser in Washington, D.C.

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Vos acknowledged attending the fundraiser and said it was part of a larger visit by GOP state legislators with the state’s congressional delegation.

Evers’ proposal to expand Medicaid eligibility would tap federal funds as laid out under the federal health care law. The Evers administration says it would save state government $324 million over two years, which could be invested in other programs to draw down more federal dollars, for a total $1.6 billion investment in a variety of health services.

Evers and Democratic lawmakers noted that 70 percent of respondents to the most recent Marquette Law School poll said they support Medicaid expansion.

‘This is our money’

Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, said it would provide a statewide infusion of federal health care funds. Wisconsin is one of 14 states that haven’t adopted Medicaid expansion.

“This is our money, and it’s time it comes home to the state of Wisconsin,” Goyke said.

There’s also a debate about how expansion would affect the private insurance market. Republican lawmakers, citing a recent study by a conservative think tank and a UW-Madison economist, argue expanding Medicaid in Wisconsin would increase private insurance consumer costs by more than it would save taxpayers.

Another recent study by UW-Madison economists found that expansion would increase private insurance consumer costs by far less — and that the increase would be vastly outweighed by a reduction in the cost to providers of uncompensated care. Another study by the Obama administration in 2016 found Obamacare exchange premiums are about 7% lower in expansion states than in non-expansion states.

Medical marijuana

Republicans on the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee also revealed Wednesday that they will strip other high-profile measures out of Evers’ budget. They include his proposed legalization of medical marijuana and de-penalization of possessing marijuana in small amounts.

Vos said marijuana laws won’t be overhauled in the budget and that he opposes Evers’ marijuana-possession de-penalization plan. But Vos said he’s open to working with Evers on a standalone medical marijuana bill after the next budget is enacted.

“I do think there is a way for us to do a limited form for people who deal with chronic medical conditions,” Vos said.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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