HHS official touts Medicaid, mum on Walker choice

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 25, 2013 at 4:23 pm •  Published: February 25, 2013
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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Expanding Medicaid under President Barack Obama's health care law is a good deal for any state, a top federal health official who previously served a long stint in Wisconsin government said Monday.

Ken Munson, regional director of the U.S. Health and Human Service department, carefully avoided any direct comments on Gov. Scott Walker's decision to reject the expansion. But Munson said: "I just don't want to underestimate the importance of Medicaid coverage."

Munson also did not discuss Walker's decision to turn down a chance for the state to operate a new private marketplace for people to purchase insurance.

Walker made the moves saying he was concerned over how much it would cost the state in the future both to manage the insurance marketplace and to pay its share of the additional people put on Wisconsin's BadgerCare Medicaid programs.

But health care advocacy groups, Wisconsin hospitals and others that pushed for Walker to go in the other direction have said it makes sense to have the state control the insurance marketplace and also accept full federal funding to expand Medicaid for the next three years.

Munson stressed that states can change their minds at any point both on expanding Medicaid and operating the private health insurance marketplace and anyone with an opinion should make it known.

"This is not just something I say in Wisconsin," Munson said at the HealthWatch Wisconsin conference, a gathering of policy makers, consumer advocates, and health care industry representatives.

The meeting was organized by ABC for Health, a Madison-based public interest law firm that works with making sure children and families get health care benefits and services.

ABC for Health director Bobby Peterson said before Munson spoke that Walker's plan rejecting the Medicaid expansion didn't make sense.

Walker proposed lowering the state's Medicaid income-eligibility rate from 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 100 percent. That would make the Medicaid income cutoff for a single person $11,490 a year instead of $22,980. He would also remove a cap on a program for childless adults.

The net effect — between new people coming into the previously capped program and those leaving Medicaid because they earn too much — would be a 5,000-person decrease. But Walker also said because of people purchasing insurance through the marketplace known as an exchange, the number of uninsured in the state would drop by 224,580.