By SCOTT BAUER
MIDDLETON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Tony Evers on Wednesday called a special session for the Legislature to offer Medicaid to more people in Wisconsin, promising to use $850 million in federal money that would come to the state to pay for an array of economic development projects throughout the state.
Turning down the Medicaid plan now would mean Republicans would also be rejecting economic-development projects in their own legislative districts, Evers said at a free health-care clinic in Middleton before signing an executive order calling the special session.
“It’s time, enough politics,” Evers said.
Even with the new approach, Evers was unlikely to find success in the Republican-controlled Legislature where earlier this year Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called the Medicaid plan a “non-starter” and part of a “liberal wish list.” Just two weeks ago, the Republican-controlled budget committee had voted to remove such a proposal from Evers’ state budget.
And even though Evers called a special session for Tuesday, Republicans don’t have to debate the bill, let alone vote on it.
Under the enticement included in the coronavirus relief bill adopted by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden, the federal government would boost its share of costs in the regular Medicaid program, which offers coverage for the poorest Americans. The bump in federal funding would last two years for the states that join the Medicaid expansion.
The federal COVID-19 relief bill Congress passed in March would provide Wisconsin with more than $1 billion in new, temporary savings if Medicaid were extended to more people. That additional money would last for two years and would come on top of $635 million the state would save over two years due to a higher federal reimbursement through Medicaid.
According to a 2018 report by the state fiscal bureau, Wisconsin would have received an additional $2.8 billion in savings between 2013 and 2019 under full Medicaid expansion.
State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, a Democrat from West Point, said Wisconsin shouldn’t pass up the $1 billion in federal money.
“If we don’t take it now, I highly doubt that opportunity will ever come again,” Erpenbach said.
Under Evers’ bill, $850 million would go toward a wide array of projects and other needs and $150 million would go into a state savings account.
The projects to be paid for include $200 million to pay for broadband expansion; $100 million to help replace lead service lines for private users of public water systems; $100 million for road and other infrastructure improvement; and $50 million for a loan to a cooperative to buy the Verso Paper Mill in Wisconsin Rapids and $15 million for a cooperative to buy the Park Falls Pulp and Paper Mill in Park Falls.
The bill would also authorize $30 million for a genomic sequencing wing at the State Laboratory of Hygiene in Madison; $15 million in grants for community health workers; $5.5 million for emergency medical services in rural areas; $4 million for a western Wisconsin forensic center; and $2 million for a new visitor center for Green Bay.
Thirty-six other states, including some led by Republicans, have already accepted Medicaid extensions. Two more — Missouri and Oklahoma — are scheduled to begin their extensions in July. Wisconsin has done a partial extension, but not done enough to capture billion of dollars in savings and additional funding from the federal government.
Extending Medicaid to more people has long been supported by Democrats and health care advocates in Wisconsin, while Republicans have branded it as welfare expansion and said there’s no guarantee that federal aid would continue.
Vos and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
Accepting federal money available through the Affordable Care Act would increase the minimum income threshold to qualify from 100% of the federal poverty rate to 138%, which would increase the income eligibility for a single person from $12,880 a year to $17,774.
That would make about 91,000 more people eligible for BadgerCare Plus in Wisconsin.