Walker sends billions of aid dollars down the drain, leaving thousands of residents without affordable health coverage | WisCommunity

Walker sends billions of aid dollars down the drain, leaving thousands of residents without affordable health coverage

As the fall elections loom, the following economic statistics ought to loom large in the choices voters make on state legislative races and the governorship. Scott Walker goes right on saying his economic strategy is "working" even though, while 1.4 million jobs have been created across America since 2009, Wisconsin right now still has eight-tenths of one percent fewer total, non-farm jobs than it did in December 2007, and ranks 37th right now among all states in job creation.

Walker also says his policies are providing health care "access" to everyone, but only, evidently, in whatever way many low-income Wisconsin residents might have access to a luxury yacht: Maybe if you're lucky you'll have a chance to look around, but you still can't afford it.

Truth is, Wisconsin's economy probably would be running a whole lot better if our impetuous governor hadn't waved away billions of federal aid dollars and the resulting thousands of new jobs they would have created. That's according to a new report from the Council of Economic Advisors (see full document at URL below). The council calculates what increases in federal spending and employment would be helping Wisconsin's economy if Walker had accepted expanded Medicaid funding rather than reject it. This report is especially eye-opening in light of a new Wisconsin government report that, under Walker's not-so-smart alternative, the state's Medicaid fund is now expected to end up the budget term in the red by $93 million, with the amount possibly growing.

Here's the council's sad rundown of what might have been (and what still could be), were Walker to have taken a different path. The big number is the dollar value of additional federal support for Wisconsin Medicaid had Walker accepted 100 percent federal funding for Medicaid expansion under the US Affordable Care Act: 

2014: $790 million
2015:  870 million
2016:  920 million

Three-year total: $2.58 billion

The council analysis also shows that between 2014 and 2017, had Walker agreed to expand Medicaid, the state would gain 11,200 sorely needed jobs. Furthermore, the total resulting increase in Wisconsin's gross domestic product in that period would have been $1.97 billion. None of it happening though, as per Walker's preferences.

But there are still other benefits that Walker's negativity keeps from our economically pressed state. The additional federal funds would have paid the full cost of health care for those thousands of additional Wisconsin residents. The complete value of that benefit is, of course, incalcuable. But, clearly, the Medicaid expansion program would not only improve access to essential medical care in the state, it would reduce financial hardship, improve citizens’ mental health and well-being and lead to greater productivity, all of which translates into additional economic benefits. The report says if Walker hadn't rejected the additional federal Medicaid dollars, 120,000 more Wisconsin residents would have health insurance while 5,400 fewer would face catastrophic, out-of-pocket medical costs each year.

Team Walker rejects that analysis, noting how their buy added tens of thousands of residents below the poverty line to BadgerCare (the state's version of Medicare). But that ignores how Walker dumped a nearly equal number of residents just above the poverty line -- people who in many cases likely have nowhere to go for health care other than the emergency room. It also ignores how BadgerCare enrollments are growing as the jobless and underemployed in Wisconsin's sluggish, still recessive economy sign up.

Meanwhile, the Appleton Post Crescent reported this about the council's study:

According to the analysis, having Medicaid coverage would spur thousands more Wisconsinites to get preventative procedures. The report estimates that 17,500 more Badger State residents would get cholesterol screening in the first year, 3,800 more would get mammograms, and 6,700 more would get pap smears.

In addition, 29,000 more Wisconsinites would have a regular medical clinic, 10,000 fewer of them would experience depression and 16,000 more would report being in good, very good, or excellent health.

[On that point, and given the way American women are now being treated -- or left untreated, actually -- by a stupid Supreme Court decision restricting some birth control coverage on religious grounds, take note that, nationally  of adults on Medicaid are women. The council report finds that limiting their access to this coverage significantly restricts their access to more general health care, way beyond birth control purposes. But if you're a white male Supreme Court justice, you apparently don't know that, or simply don't care.]

Nationally, the failure of 25 states including Wisconsin to expand Medicaid with federal dollars is expected to leave 5.7 million Americans without coverage. Walker's defensive reaction aside, it's simply unbelievable that everyone in Wisconsin has "access" to some kind of health coverage other than a hospital emergency room, and it's even more unbelievable that everyone in Wisconsin today can afford on-going insurance coverage, even of the most limited kind. 

Despite this sad and counterproductive situation, it's not too late for Walker to change his mind and begin accepting the additional Medicaid funding, as several other Republican govenors now have done. But don't hold your breath, because that funding is part of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise know as Obamacare, and Walker like many other tea party faithers thinks that's awful. I

Beyond health coverage and its massive economic implications, let's not forget the huge economic opportunity that Walker exchewed when, while he was still governor-elect he announced he would refuse to accept a previously awarded $810 million in federal tranportation grants to build a high-speed passenger rail line linking the Twin Cities and Chicago with Milwaukee, Madison and other state cities.

If you looked no farther than those massive federal aid opt-outs by Walker, you'd see that he's squandered, at minimum, several billions of dollars that could have put Wisconsin to work, not to mention the economic multiplier effects. And, beyond pure economics, declining help to improve the health and well-being of state residents is a dubious moral and ethical choice.

Moreover, in the case of the rail project, Walker's rejection forced state taxpayers to pick up hidden costs on the scale equivalent to that spiraling state Medicaid fund deficit. The hundreds of millions of additional dollars that state taxpayers are having to lay out just to keep existing Amtrak service were, you see, part of the package Walker rejected.

It's money flushed down the toilet -- which, allusionally speaking, might be the direction informed voters decide to send the Walker governorship.


July 2, 2014 - 10:46pm