Wisconsin will turn down $37 million from the federal government that had been awarded to help implement health care exchanges under President Barack Obama's health care reform law, Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday.
Walker announced in December that Wisconsin would not pursue implementing the exchange until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of the law.
But he did not say whether the state would take the money. On Wednesday Walker said he was notifying the federal government that Wisconsin was turning down the Early Innovator Grant, saying it didn't make sense to commit to reforms that could have a devastating economic impact.
"Stopping the encroachment of ObamaCare in our state, which has the potential to have a devastating impact on Wisconsin's economy, is a top priority. Wisconsin has been a leader and innovator in health care reform for two decades, and we have achieved a high level of health insurance coverage without federal mandates," Walker said in a statement.
The American Cancer Society called the Republican governor's action a move backward.
"A robust, consumer-friendly health exchange designed specifically for Wisconsin would greatly expand access to care to those who need it most, while preserving what already works. It's unfortunate the (Walker) administration is deciding to ignore this reality," said Allison Miller, Wisconsin government relations director for the American Cancer Society.
The exchanges are designed to help consumers and small businesses compare health plans and increase competition by requiring insurers to offer more plans and provide more information.
While Wisconsin has been a leader in providing access to affordable quality health care to as many people as possible, "too many people in our state still find themselves unable to attain coverage, especially those touched by cancer," Miller said in a news release.
State Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Whitefish Bay, accused Walker of playing politics "with the health of our communities,"
"This brazen attempt to score short-sighted political points with extreme partisan interests by playing chicken with federal law will take Wisconsin's health care decisions out of our hands and give them to the federal government. It is penny-wise, pound-foolish, and most certainly presents a missed opportunity for Wisconsin to control its own destiny in designing a quality, consumer-friendly exchange," Pasch said in a statement.
Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, said Walker's decision was a mistake because the exchanges could have provided consumers with more options for their health care. Kraig told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he believes the state had spent about $1 million of the federal money. He said he was unsure if the state would need to repay that money if it is not moving forward with the exchange.
While Democrats say it's important to prepare for the new federal health care law, Republicans say it could be struck down. The U.S. Supreme Court has scheduled several days of oral arguments for the end of March to consider whether the law is constitutional.