New report: Medicaid expansion would save state $206M

File photo (MGN Online)

A new report said Wisconsin would be saving hundreds of millions of dollars if Gov. Scott Walker hadn't rejected some federal money for health care. The issue will be on some ballots in November as an advisory referendum.

The governor is once again defending his decision. He has refused to accept more federal money to expand Medicaid coverage in Wisconsin.

The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau said if Walker had accepted the money it would have saved the state $206 million.

Democrats continue to pressure Walker to accept the money and expand the state's BadgerCare program.

"We didn't expose the taxpayers to a huge risk," said Walker.

State Sen. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, requested the report. It said if Wisconsin expanded Medicaid coverage to levels suggested by the new federal health care law, 87,000 more people would be covered.

The federal government said it would pay for that expansion for the next two years and give the state additional money for Medicaid.

During a campaign stop Tuesday in Lawrence the governor explained why he is turning down the money.

"Anyone who is depending on the federal government to come through with funding here or anywhere else across the country is living in an alternative universe, because it's a federal government that's already $17 trillion in the hole," he said. "They've reneged on Medicaid and other promises in the past."

Walker said under his policies everyone living in poverty already has access to health care through Medicaid.

But Citizen Action of Wisconsin said that leaves out thousands of people just above the poverty line who still need help.

"He can say that 'what if' scenario, but we can point to people right now who are suffering for lack of this," said Kevin Kane, the group's lead organizer.

The group has also been pushing Walker to take the additional money.

“We started working with all the different groups under the sun who thought this was a bad idea," said Kane.

According to Kane, Outagamie County is one of 15 counties in the state that will have advisory referendums about expanding Medicaid.

"We're thinking that if you put a lot of public attention, draw a lot of public scrutiny to this issue and show why it's a good idea, you can only hold your breath for so long," he said.

An advisory referendum lets voters make their view known on an issue. However, it does not force leaders to make a change.

Walker won't have to accept the federal money even if the majority of voters say he should, but he said he will review the results.

"We look at everything out there, but talking to taxpayers across the state is going to be our ultimate concern, and we'll have that dialogue as part of this debate," said Walker.

Kane said more counties in Wisconsin could add similar referendums to ballots. That has to happen before the end of the month.

Walker wouldn't say if he thinks the referendums will impact voter turnout. Kane said it may not because the issue is more complicated than others.