NEW RICHMOND - Gov. Tony Evers took his fight for Medicaid expansion Tuesday to St. Croix County, where County Board members threw their support behind the measure.
The Democratic governor met June 4 with St. Croix County Health and Human Services workers, where he leaned on public support for Medicaid expansion and said he would continue fighting staunch Republican opposition to the proposal.
"It isn't welfare," Evers said while meeting with employees. "We have an obligation to serve the people of the state."
He touted an April Marquette Law School poll that showed 70% support in Wisconsin for the measure. The expansion would fund large portions of Evers' proposed budget and cover people making up to 138% of the poverty level. Republicans have stood firm against the measure, arguing it would put more people on welfare and could come with additional costs to taxpayers.
Rep. Shannon Zimmerman, a River Falls Republican who serves on the Legislature's budget-writing committee, said a Medicaid expansion would result in lower reimbursement rates for those patients at hospitals. He said the resulting cost would be passed on to private insurers.
"That cost gap has got to shift somewhere," Zimmerman said.
The expansion would cover an additional 82,000 Wisconsinites, 660 of whom live in St. Croix County. Democrats say the expansion would add $1.6 billion in federal dollars and create $324 million in state savings.
St. Croix County Board members passed a resolution later Tuesday in support of Medicaid expansion, with Tammy Moothedan telling fellow supervisors "it's the fiscally responsible thing to do."
Supervisor Roy Sjoberg took a more confrontational stance, telling other board members that if they voted against the resolution, he would question their politics "and your American values."
That drew a pointed response from Supervisor Bob Feidler, who said the issue is complex and that while reasonable people can disagree on it, "American values cannot be called into question."
Sjoberg later apologized for the remark, but questioned Feidler's assertions, which included the possibility of health care costs increasing if more people on Medicaid abused emergency room care and pharmacies.
The resolution passed 12-4.
In his remarks to county workers, Evers noted how "red," or Republican-leaning states, have accepted the Medicaid expansion while Wisconsin remains among 13 states that have not.
"This issue should and does transcend political lines," Evers said.
The GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee on June 4 moved forward with a health care funding package that did not include Medicaid expansion dollars. Zimmerman said that package, which includes increased funding for personal care workers, nursing homes and direct-care workers, would be funded through a budget surplus.
He said that while those funds aren't from an ongoing funding mechanism, they are sustainable and "not the result of any part of a tax increase.
"They are the result of a growing, thriving economy," Zimmerman said.
As to whether that funding represents an over-reliance on a strong Wisconsin economy, he said it does not.
"Because we didn't reach that far," Zimmerman said.
Evers said he would continue fighting for the Medicaid expansion regardless.
"There's a long way before the budget is soup," he told RiverTown Multimedia, adding that the Legislature could re-insert the measure after the Joint Finance Committee reshapes the budget. "I'm hopeful," he said. "We're going to continue to push it."
He said it's also possible the measure could be taken up in his next budget or in other legislative sessions.
"But I think we can get it this time," Evers said.
Zimmerman said he expects the Joint Finance Committee to wrap up its work next week. Both legislative chambers would then vote on the budget. Zimmerman said a budget bill could be sent to Evers' desk by month's end.