Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, isn’t ruling out accepting federal money to expand Medicaid in Wisconsin, but said he doesn’t see support for it in the Republican-led Legislature now.
“I don’t see it right now, but there’s a lot of moving parts, as we know. So I don’t want to be presumptuous and rule it out,” Fitzgerald told reporters Thursday at the state Capitol.
Gov. Scott Walker rejected the federal Medicaid dollars in 2013, opting for a partial expansion instead. Wisconsin is one of 17 states to have turned down the funds.
Under Walker’s approach, all adults at or below the federal poverty level were made eligible for coverage through BadgerCare Plus, allowing about 130,000 childless adults to sign up. But adjustments to eligibility requirements for adults with children shifted about 63,000 people off of Medicaid.
Accepting the full expansion would allow people who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level to receive Medicaid coverage. According to the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Wisconsin could have taken in $1.1 billion from 2014 to 2019 had the state taken the expansion money.
Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers has said he will include a proposal to accept the full expansion in his first state budget, which he will submit to the Legislature early next year.
Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said in October he thinks there is room for creative compromise on the expansion.
Pointing to Wisconsin’s relatively low Medicaid reimbursement rates, Hintz said he thinks there could be bipartisan support for accepting the expansion money if some of those funds were used to boost reimbursements.
But Assembly Majority Leader Robin Vos, R-Rochester, was adamantly opposed.
“Not gonna happen. No. Never,” Vos said when asked whether the Assembly might revisit the decision if Evers was elected governor.
Fitzgerald said he’d like to revisit the question in February when officials have a better idea of the state’s financial situation.
While he didn’t close the door on expanding Medicaid, Fitzgerald was firmly against allowing medical marijuana in Wisconsin.
“Nah. I don’t see the support,” Fitzgerald said. “I don’t support it.”
Evers has said he would support and sign legislation legalizing medical marijuana, and would support a statewide referendum on whether the state should allow legalize recreational use.
Fitzgerald met with Evers Thursday morning, and the two officials plan to do so regularly once Evers takes office, Fitzgerald said.
“Governor-elect Evers’ outreach plan to take applications from across the state was cause for optimism, which is why I’m so greatly disappointed that his top four appointments were from Milwaukee. What’s even more disconcerting is that the most powerful appointment was the brother-in-law of the co-chair of his transition team,” Vos said in a statement, referring in particular to Evers’ pick to lead the Department of Administration, Joel Brennan.
Brennan, the CEO of Milwaukee’s Discovery World Science and Technology Museum, earned praise from Fitzgerald. The two serve together on the Wisconsin Center District board.
“He’s a great guy,” Fitzgerald said. “When I saw his name was announced, I said that’s a good pick.”
Fitzgerald said he’s not bothered that Evers’ first four picks are from Milwaukee.
Fitzgerald said he is “hopeful” Republicans in the Legislature will find some areas of agreement with Evers on the 2017-19 state budget, but he also said he expects lawmakers will build their own budget rather than working with the one Evers gives them.
“I guess I don’t want to fully just assume that before the Gov.-elect introduces his budget we would completely dismiss it, but I’m still assuming we’ll build off the base budget,” Fitzgerald said.