BadgerCare Bill Knocks a $2.8 Million Hole in Corrections Dept. Budget
$900,000 per Month Increase in DOC Costs Is One of Several Unintended Effects
Rather than accepting enhanced federal Medicaid funds, the Governor proposes to pay for a 3-month delay in BadgerCare eligibility reductions by also delaying positive aspects of the budget bill, including the expansion of coverage for adults who don’t have dependent children. Obviously, the most disappointing aspect of financing the bill in that way is that the Governor is breaking his promise not to create a coverage gap for low-income childless adults. Another smaller and much less obvious problem is that the Special Session bill being considered by the Joint Finance Committee on December 2nd creates a $2.8 million GPR hole in the Department of Corrections budget.
The expansion of coverage to include adults without dependent children is projected to save the DOC about $900,000 per month by picking up a significant portion of the cost of hospitalizing inmates. Medicaid cannot pay for the health care of people when they are incarcerated, but it can cover costs of those who are treated outside the corrections institution. Even if they have children, all inmates are considered to be childless because they aren’t at that time acting as custodial parents of dependent children.
The budget bill assumed that DOC hospitalization costs of about $900,000 GPR per month would be transferred to the Dept. of Health Services, with the federal government picking about half of those costs. The delay in coverage for childless adults eliminates the DOC savings, and saves the state treasury an estimated $23 million, but doesn’t restore the $900,000 per month that the budget bill cut from the DOC budget when it assumed that those costs would be shifted to DHS. It’s unclear how the corrections agency will deal with the $2.8 million hole in the budget. One reason why it worries me is that in recent years when DOC has had to lapse money to the General Fund, it has made cuts in the Youth Aids allocations for county juvenile justice costs.
That isn’t the only unfortunate, unintended consequence of the Special Session bill. Another is that the bill delays for three months statutory changes in how income and family units are defined. Those changes are needed to make the state policies for determining BadgerCare eligibility consistent with federal definitions that take effect on January 1. Since the federal standards preempt state law, the three-month delay in implementing those within the state’s eligibility system is going to create an extremely confusing situation.