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Local reaction to Walker's plan is mixed

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Gov. Scott Walker’s Medicaid decision Wednesday won praise from the chief administrative officer of the Mayo Clinic Health System-La Crosse but drew brickbats from Democratic lawmakers.

“Basically, we’re pleased that his plan is projected to reduce the number of uninsured in the state,” Mayo CAO Joe Kruse said in an interview.

“This is taking a step in the right direction,” he said.

By Walker’s account, his plan would reduce the number of uninsured people ages 19 to 64 by 224,580.

Rep. Jill Billings, D-La Crosse, derided Walker’s “hybrid” option as a “complicated shell game designed to draw attention away from the fact that he is playing politics with people’s ability to get access to health care.”

Kruse declined comment on such criticisms, other than to say, “We celebrate the successes. … With 400,000 uninsured in the state, this closes the gap quite a bit.“

Kruse acknowledged that many details remain to be determined, including the “full impact on us as a provider.”

Michael Richards, external affairs executive director at Gundersen Lutheran Health System, issued a statement but declined to say whether the health care provider supports or opposes Walker’s decision.

In the run-up to Walker’s decision, Democrats and others, including the Wisconsin Hospital Association, had urged him to accept $12 billion in federal money over 10 years to expand BadgerCare. The federal government would have covered 100 percent the first three years, and 90 percent thereafter.

Advocates said it would have created more than 10,000 health care jobs and saved the state and hospitals millions of dollars a year in uncompensated care costs they must cover now.

State Rep. Steve Doyle, D-Onalaska, expressed chagrin at Walker’s decision, saying the 100 percent reimbursement is far preferable to the federal government’s 60 percent share of Medicaid otherwise.

“There’s no downside to taking the 100 percent because there are no strings attached and the state could opt out later,” Doyle said.

Doyle found it ironic that part of Walker’s plan is to have some of the low-income uninsured buy coverage from the federal insurance exchange, when Walker refused to have the state form its own exchange.

They still won’t be able to afford it, he said, adding, “It will discourage the working poor from keeping their jobs.”

State Sen. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, labeled Walker’s option as “short-sighted,” saying it “leaves Wisconsin’s middle-class families stranded in the waiting room. By turning away federal funding, Wisconsin taxpayers will pay more out of their own pockets, and thousands will be denied access to affordable health care.”

Alluding to Walker’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, said the governor’s decision “put politics before people.”

Other Republican governors who had opposed President Barack Obama’s signature legislation accepted money for the Medicaid expansion, pointed out Kind, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee’s health subcommittee.

“I reached out to him two weeks ago and asked him to follow those other conservative governors,” he said.

Those who remain uninsured under Walker’s plan still will receive treatment, and those costs will be shifted to hospitals and those who do have insurance, Kind said.

“Accepting the support for Medicaid expansion would reduce the number of uninsured, saving Wisconsin’s health care system $247 million in uncompensated care costs over the next 10 years,” he said. “Rejecting this deal is wrong for Wisconsin.”

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