Scott Walker's health insurance shell game: Who ya gonna believe? Him or your lyin' eyes? | WisCommunity

Scott Walker's health insurance shell game: Who ya gonna believe? Him or your lyin' eyes?

When Scott Walker claims that he's helped 19,000 more Wisconsin people obtain health care under the state's version of Medicaid, I always ask myself: Is he counting my wife and me?

I wonder about that because the State of Wisconsin has until very recently persisted in acting as though our household is enrolled in BadgerCare Plus (the state's version of the Medicaid health insurance program for low-income people). But we never enrolled in BadgerCare. In fact, we're signed up with a private insurer we found through the Affordable Care Act (ACA for short, "Obamacare" to the unwashed). It's better coverage than BadgerCare and far more affordable than the private plan we had before the ACA came along.

The fact is, based on our income, we are grossly ineligible for BadgerCare because we earn too much. Yet the state apparently has counted us as among the program's enrollees and up until very recently was sending us a regular stream of enrollment information via US Mail. After several attempts at communication we think we managed to convince the state we are not in BadgerCare, although we're still waiting to see if any more official state letters about our imaginary benefits come through our mail slot.

I bring this up because it possibly means that until recently -- and perhaps even continuing as of this date -- the two of us conceivably could be included in the governor's count of those 19,000 residents newly added to BadgerCare. Even though, as I have said, we are not in fact enrolled.

Now, our case may just be some isolated bureaucratic snafu. When we first applied for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, problems with the federal web site apparently resulted in our application erroneously being forwarded to the BadgerCare program. We ignored that and went on to successfully enroll in an ACA offering. Despite our attempts to dismiss the erroneous application, however, BadgerCare insisted we were enrolled, even though we signed no such application.

Consider the above account for whatever insight it may add as we return to the issue of whether the Walker administration's targeted claims are, on a larger scale, at all reliable or relevant.

According to the federal government, changes to health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act helped 140,000 Wisconsin residents enroll in private insurance plans -- most of them subsidized -- offered through the Act's federal marketplace from last October through April 19. But Gov. Walker and his re-election campaign have ignored that significant improvement, instead focusing on how his policies are covering those additional 19,000 state adults in BadgerCare. It looks very much as if Walker is trying to piggyback on the ACA's surprising success in getting more Wisconsin people affordable health care, despite it's initial startup problems.

Here are other numbers Walker is ignoring: That 19,000 gain he touts is actually just the apparent net difference between changes under which BadgerCare added some 81,000 adults in one of the program's category while dumping nearly 63,000 others. Walker's 19,000 gain claim depends on the assumption that all of those who he dumped off BadgerCare have found other, private health insurance. In letters announcing those 63,000 were being cut off, his administration had suggested the soon-to-be-former BadgerCare enrollees could now apply for coverage through the ACA marketplace -- the very ACA and marketplace he worked mightily to subvert. 

For now Walker in effect asks you to assume all those 63,000 BadgerCare enrollees he disenfranchised actually did find alternate coverage. It's an unlikely assumption, because the private insurance offerings in the ACA marketplace, even where federally subsidized, are likely more expensive than BadgerCare coverage. So the 19,000 number is probably too high. It's in fact possible that the actual net number of people Walker helped gain health coverage is in the negative range.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin pointedly noted this week that the Walker administration is honor-bound by the terms of a deal it made with the federal Medicaid program to report on how many of the 63,000 actually found other insurance. But Team Walker is taking its time responding. Apparently the abacus in the governor's office is in the shop for repair or conscripted to calculate lobbyist campaign donations.

As if that were not enough, Walker also discontinued HISRP, the state's innovative and successful high-risk health insurance pool for citizens unable to obtain affordable private coverage. That program has covered around 20,000 citizens in recent years and the same Walker admonition applies: Those former enrollees now forced off the high-risk program by his policies can simply go apply for coverage elsewhere -- perhaps, again, through the very ACA program Walker has painted as bad public policy. You know, the one that just helped 140,000 more Wisconsin residents gain affordable coverage, entirely without the state's help but instead a lot of bad mouthing.

All of which means Walker is either a complete cynic or factually uninformed. In any event, we don't have any data yet on how many of those residents formerly in the state's high-risk pool have managed to find other coverage, either. It's another possible uncounted ding against that 19,000 number Walker keeps hauling out at campaign events. What's the actual number, governor? Do we have to file a state open records request to find out?

So, voters can focus on what Walker wants them to hear -- the rhetoric and resulting headlines concerning his very probably incomplete, inaccurate and misleading claim about helping 19,000 additional net residents gain health care, or the human and fiscal fallout from Walker's refusal to use the ACA provision expanding Medicaid with 100 percent federal monetary support. That refusal according to one analysis means that Wisconsin is leaving up to $1 million a day on the table, enough to cover way more people than Walker's machinations are covering, and at federal rather than state expense.

Politifact Wisconsin explained the big-picture result of Walker's policies this way:

"[A]dults with incomes above the poverty threshold previously covered by BadgerCare Plus are now required to buy subsidized private insurance on the marketplace set up by the Affordable Care Act. Even after the federal subsidies, they will have higher premiums and cost-sharing – arguably, less access to health care – than they had with BadgerCare Plus.

"In other words, Walker is financing his Medicaid expansion with the money the state will save by moving the less-poor adults from Medicaid to the subsidized private plans sold in the Obamacare marketplace."

Like we said, it's all a shell game. Walker makes it sound like he's getting things done, but, really, he's just wasting your time for personal political gain.


May 22, 2014 - 11:41pm