MILWAUKEE — Gov.-elect Tony Evers says he’ll enlist the health care industry and visit Republican-leaning areas to sell a deeply skeptical GOP Legislature on a cornerstone of his first budget plan: to expand Medicaid health coverage to 80,000 Wisconsinites.
Evers spoke to reporters Wednesday after touring the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center in Milwaukee.
Evers was asked about Republican lawmakers’ discussion of changing the date of Wisconsin’s 2020 presidential primary, and called it “a very questionable proposal.”
During the campaign, Evers pledged if elected he would propose to expand Medicaid, the health-coverage program for the poor or disabled, under former President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care act. Evers confirmed Wednesday that “it’s going to be in our budget” for the two-year cycle starting in July.
Republican legislative leaders and outgoing Gov. Scott Walker have resisted the move for years, making Wisconsin one of 17 states that has not taken federal funding under the health care law to expand Medicaid to people earning up to 133 percent of the poverty level. Voters in three of those 17 — Idaho, Nebraska and Utah — approved Medicaid expansion in referendums in the November election.
Evers on Wednesday said “leadership is what caused (Medicaid expansion) to fail” in Wisconsin. He added he expects to win Republican votes for the measure.
“There’s lots of people out there that work in the health care industry that frankly voted for Gov. Walker that I think can help change that dialogue,” Evers said.
Evers also said he will take the plan to voters throughout the state, citing the Fox Valley in particular.
“We’ll be taking this budget out to the people of the state of Wisconsin, and in Republican areas, we’ll be talking about this,” Evers said.
Republicans in Wisconsin have maintained the state, which shares the cost of Medicaid with the federal government, should not incur the long-term liability of expanding publicly funded health coverage.
But federal funding the state would get under the Obamacare law to expand Medicaid will loom large in the debate over it in 2019. Evers is expected to factor more than $200 million in federal money for Medicaid expansion into his budget, said Jon Peacock, research director for Kids Forward, said earlier this month.
Representatives for Walker, Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday evening.
Kit Beyer, a spokeswoman for Vos, said shortly after the election that “Medicaid expansion is not on the list of priorities for the Assembly.”
Vos, asked in October if he’d consider Medicaid expansion if Evers won the election, told reporters it’s “not going to happen. Never.”
“I don’t want more people on government-run health care,” Vos said.
Much of the present focus in the State Capitol centers on what may come up in a lame-duck extraordinary legislative session next month — Republican legislators’ last chance to send bills to Walker before Evers takes office.
Fitzgerald and Walker have acknowledged there are talks about moving Wisconsin’s 2020 presidential primary, now set for April.
The April 2020 election also is when Walker’s most recent state Supreme Court appointee, conservative-backed Justice Daniel Kelly, would stand for election if he seeks another term.
Evers said he’s concerned by opposition from local election clerks to moving the presidential primary. They have said it would cost taxpayers millions of dollars and create administrative snafus for election officials by adding a third statewide election date.
The 2020 presidential primary could see robust Democratic voter turnout because a wide-open battle is expected for that party’s presidential nomination, while Republicans are expected to renominate President Donald Trump.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Fitzgerald acknowledged that moving the presidential primary — which would decouple the Supreme Court election from the presidential primary — could give a “better chance” to Kelly in the election.
“It’s always great to hear honesty,” Evers said of Fitzgerald’s comments. “Clearly that’s what everybody assumed. I know Sen. Fitzgerald well, and if he said that, I believe that’s an accurate statement.”