Walker expects his Medicaid proposal will pass

Democrats speak out against Medicaid changes

MADISON, Wis. - Gov. Scott Walker expects his plan to reject federally funded Medicaid expansion will win approval from the Legislature's budget committee.

Walker is proposing tightening income eligibility for the program to move more people near the poverty line into private insurance. That plan drew criticism from Democrats and even one Republican on the GOP-controlled committee.

Republican Sen. Luther Olsen asked Walker's head of the Department of Health Services why the state would turn down federal money.

Olsen also said he's heard concerns that people kicked out of Medicaid won't purchase the private insurance and will turn to hospitals for free care.

But Walker said he's not worried that other Republicans share Olsen's concerns. And the Republican governor said he believes Olsen would ultimately vote for a budget that rejects Medicaid expansion.

Incoming Department of Health Services Secretary Kitty Rhoades defended Walker's plan, saying it will protect those in poverty and keep others covered through private insurance.

"You cannot force everybody to enroll. That would be a decision people would make. What we have done is to provide the greatest opportunity, I believe, ever, for people to have access to affordable care," Rhoades said.

Democratic state Rep. Jon Richards is one of the most vocal critics of Walker's decision to reject the expansion and $4.4 billion in federal money. He said it's not too late for the Republican-controlled Legislature to reverse that decision.

Democrats said rejecting the Medicaid money will leave some people with no insurance.

"If we're not going to take the federal money, it's not like our federal taxes go down. It just goes to another state," said Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine.

Republicans control the legislature's Joint Finance Committee by a 3-1 margin. They'll hold a series of hearings on the budget in the coming weeks, and a final vote is still some two months away.

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