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Scott Walker will delay shifting 77,000 on BadgerCare to federal health exchange

By David Wahlberg, The Wisconsin State Journal
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Nov. 15--Gov. Scott Walker Thursday called for a special session of the Legislature to delay shifting more than 100,000 people on Medicaid and a high-risk health plan to the federal health insurance exchange.

A bill to be acted on after Thanksgiving would allow about 77,000 adults on Medicaid, or BadgerCare, who make more than the poverty level to remain on the program through March 31, Walker said. Another bill would extend the state's Health Insurance Risk-Sharing Plan, or HIRSP, which has about 25,000 people, through the end of March.

Under Walker's budget passed in June, both groups were scheduled to lose their coverage Dec. 31 and switch Jan. 1 to the exchange set up by the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare.

But enrollment in the exchange, which started Oct. 1, has been hindered by glitches to the website healthcare.gov. Throughout Wisconsin, fewer than 900 people picked a plan the first month.

"It has become abundantly clear that the rollout of Obamacare is failing," Walker said in calling for the three-month delay. "We don't want anyone in this state to fall through the cracks."

The delay would also affect about 82,000 childless adults below the poverty level who are expected to gain BadgerCare coverage under Walker's plan. They would be eligible for coverage beginning April 1 instead of Jan. 1. Since Wisconsin isn't fully expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, they are exempt from the mandate requiring insurance Jan. 1.

Walker said the BadgerCare delay won't result in any cost to the state and the HIRSP delay can be covered by a surplus in that program. With the Assembly and the Senate controlled by Republicans, the delay is likely to be approved.

"We support the governor's call for a special session to quickly address the problems the Obama administration created in Wisconsin," said a statement by Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and state Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, co-chairpersons of the Joint Committee on Finance.

Democrats said the delay wouldn't be needed if Walker had accepted federal funding to fully expand Medicaid and opted for the state, instead of the federal government, to run Wisconsin's exchange. State-run exchanges have had fewer problems than the federal exchange, they said.

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"If the governor is insisting on holding a special session to fix this budget screwup, he should simply accept all the funds now to avoid another special session fix in the future," said Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee.

But Walker said some state-run exchanges are having problems, and the troubled federal rollout is "precisely why I didn't take the Medicaid expansion in the first place."

"People who are taking the Medicaid expansion are dependent on the federal government living up to the commitment, a federal government that can't even get a website up and going," Walker said.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association, Wisconsin Medical Society, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and Wisconsin Council on Children and Families were among the groups that praised Walker's call for the delay.

In February, Walker said adults on BadgerCare who make more than the poverty level -- $19,530 for a family of three -- would have to switch to the exchange Jan. 1. The Legislature approved his plan in June.

The state notified 77,000 people, most of them parents, in late September that they might lose BadgerCare at the end of the year. But letters informing people for sure aren't scheduled to be sent until Nov. 23, when the state expects to be ready to use new federal criteria to determine eligibility.

People must enroll on the exchange by Dec. 15 to get coverage by Jan. 1. Federal officials say the website is improving and will work smoothly by Nov. 30. Enrollment continues through the end of March, but coverage doesn't begin until two weeks or longer after people sign up.

The state started mailing paper applications this week to the 77,000 people. Enrollment can also be done by phone at 800-318-2596.

A Joint Finance Committee amendment to the budget suggested the state would delay the shift until April 1 if the federal government didn't certify the exchange by Oct. 15.

But that was only if such a certification was required, and it is not, said Jon Peacock, research director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.

"As it turns out, there is no such requirement, which appears to negate the intent of the JFC amendment," Peacock wrote in a blog post last week.

Walker opposes the Affordable Care Act, which relies on the exchanges to increase coverage for people who don't get insurance through their jobs or programs such as Medicaid. He rejected federal funding to expand Medicaid to everyone earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.

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(c)2013 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)

Visit The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.) at www.wisconsinstatejournal.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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