Rep. wants counties to decide on Medicaid

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State Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, wants each county in Wisconsin to decide for themselves if they want to accept expanded Medicaid funding from the federal government provided through the Affordable Care Act.

Sargent introduced a bill that would allow that, but it has yet to be assigned to a committee by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.

The bill has some local support. The Rock County Board in December approved a resolution calling on the state to accept enhanced federal Medicaid funding, or allow individual counties the option of accepting their share of the federal funds.

Rock County Board Supervisor Steve Howland of Beloit, who represents the 15th District, said the resolution was approved by the board by an overwhelming majority, 23 - 6. Rock County was the 19th county in Wisconsin to approve a resolution supporting the notion of allowing counties the option to accept the funding. Howland said he was surprised by the strong support for the resolution. He also believes residents of the county could benefit from the enhanced funding.

“There is a strong feeling this is denying funds that would benefit the residents of Rock County,” Howland said.

Gov. Scott Walker has continually voiced his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and the expansion of Medicaid. Thus, he has declined accepting the enhanced federal Medicaid funding. Walker proposes to transfer thousands of Wisconsin residents out of the BadgerCare program and into the newly created insurance marketplace. Sargent said it is estimated more than 3,000 Rock County residents will be removed from the BadgerCare rolls under Walker’s plan, and more than 80,000 people statewide will be denied BadgerCare services.

Sargent said her bill is based on legislation that already has been enacted in Ohio. She believes this bill would create jobs and save money for the state. And, she said there still is time to take advantage of this enhanced funding.

“There is no sunset clause. We can accept the money at any time, but Gov. Walker has rejected it again and again,” Sargent said.

Under Sargent’s bill, any county can seek enhanced Medicaid funds from the federal government if the county board approves a resolution to do so. Then, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services must assist that specific county in obtaining the federal funding.

She said the enhanced funding could bring about $87.4 million in funding to Rock County from fiscal year 2014 to 2021.

“These are the working poor. These are people who are working hard for their families,” she said.

State Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, said she would like to learn more about the bill before taking a stand on it. But, she did voice some reservations.

“Rep. Sargent's proposal related to counties accepting federal Medicaid dollars hasn't been introduced yet, so there are no fiscal estimates available indicating potential costs to counties,” Loudenbeck said. “These costs could be significant as the federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP) is reduced from 95 percent in 2017 to 90 percent in 2021. I would like to see what kind of a financial obligation the proposal might create for Wisconsin counties before commenting further.”

Sargent said the Speaker of the Assembly has to assign the bill to a committee before it can advance. She said the bill has 31 co-sponsors and Sen. David Hansen, D-Green Bay, is the Senate sponsor. No Republicans are among the co-sponsors.

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